Cambodia railway project a disaster for relocated households: report

Radio Australia 05 June 2013

A report has found that a railway project in Cambodia has significantly impoverished hundreds of people who were forced to relocate outside the capital in late 2011.

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143 Cambodian households have been moved to a relocation site at Trapeang Anhchanh, 20 kilometres away from Phnom Penh. (Credit: Audience submitted)

A report has found that a railway project in Cambodia has significantly impoverished hundreds of people who were forced to relocate outside the capital in late 2011.

STT, a local NGO, has released a report saying dozens of households relocated from Phnom Penh are much worse off, as a result of a badly designed resettlement process.

Around 1,000 households either have been or will be relocated nationwide by the $142 million dollar project, which is funded by the Asian Development Bank, AusAID, and the Cambodian Government.

Nora Lindstrom, STT’s program development manager, says 143 households have been moved to a relocation site at Trapeang Anhchanh, where they have received some assistance, including a small plot of land and some cash to compensate for the replacement cost of their former homes.

However, Ms Lindstrom says the relocation site is a long way from where residents used to work.

“20 kilometres away from the city centre from their previous livelihoods is very far for poor households, and so they simply can’t afford to travel back to their previous jobs,” she said.

“People have lost jobs, incomes have gone down for households, and those who’ve been able to maintain their jobs, the net income obviously is a lot lower.”

Ms Lindstrom says the key issue has been household debt.

“They’ve taken on that debt because they didn’t get enough compensation to rebuild their homes and their lives at the site – it’s often something like 7 per cent interest rates per month, which is absolutely massive, and they can’t afford it,” she said.

“So even if they had a job, all that money would simply go into repaying the debts. Now the other problem is there aren’t any jobs.”

STT has reported that in less than a year around half of the families have left the site.

The 68 families that have remained in Trapeang Anhchanh have been found to be far worse off than those who have left.

Those remaining are mostly women and children, who are the most vulnerable and therefore the least able to move back to the city.

They were also found to be much worse off than the 105 households who have not yet been moved from the railway tracks but who will, at some future point, be relocated.

On the other hand, Ms Lindstrom says the relocation process does have some positive elements: a plan to restore incomes, though delayed, now looks to be working; and the families that once lived illegally along the railway will eventually own their plot at the relocation site, provided they stay there for five years.

ADB country director Eric Sidgwick says significant strides have been made for the affected families since STT collected its data.

Mr Sidgwick says the average debt of most of the relocated families had dropped to $875 by March, and average monthly incomes were at nearly $375.

According to both AusAID and the ADB, the income restoration program has helped more than 60 families to set up small businesses, and a social fund has allowed some people to access cash loans to address food and health emergencies.

Both AusAID and the ADB say that families at the site will be taught financial literacy classes to help them manage their money better.

The two bodies have also said they would work with the government to ensure that lessons would be learned for future relocations.

Radio Australia was unable to reach the man responsible for railway relocation in the Cambodian Government.

AusAID and the ADB declined to be interviewed directly.