Frankfurt, Germany –Deafening silence rose when leader of project-affected communities, Sim Pov raised his community’s issues on the US $ 42 million loan to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the Cambodia Railway Rehabilitation Project. The project aims to restore Cambodia’s railway infrastructure by rehabilitating existing railway tracks and associated structures, reconstructing the destroyed railway line to Thailand.
Sim Pov brought a sample of the murky water from the Battambang resettlement site and handed it to President Nakao during a dialogue with civil society organizations on the 49th Annual Governors Meeting being held in Frankfurt. The community leader and high school teacher asked the President to help the 4,000 displaced families living in dire conditions due to poor compliance on safeguards measures on involuntary resettlement issues.
In November 2011, ADB received a complaint on failure to comply with adequate compensation and restoration of livelihood. Displaced families waited for years to be receive compensation for lost properties that were heavily undervalued forcing them to take debts in order to survive. They were placed in inhabitable resettlement areas far from employment opportunities, access to clean water and near dump sites exposing them to health risks.
“What do you think if your family has to live with this kind of water?” Sim Pov raises the bottled water containing dirty water during the CSO dialogue with Nakao.
He and his family would drink the water he took from the resettlement site. He closed his query by saying that “I strongly believe that Mr. President with your leadership you will take immediate action to address our urgent situation”.
The complaint filed by the communities triggered a safeguards review to which a Compliance Review Panel, after a 17-month investigation, admitted that ADB committed errors in its due diligence processes. The Panel found that families affected by the Railway project “suffered loss of property, livelihoods, and incomes, and as a result have borne a disproportionate cost and burden of the development efforts funded by ADB.” According to the Panel, ADB’s “inadequate attention to addressing the resettlement, public communications and disclosure requirements of its own policies…has led to significant yet avoidable adverse social impact on mostly poor and vulnerable people.”. The Panel issued clear recommendations to the ADB Management to comply with safeguard policies and address the issue.
After six years, however, displaced families have found themselves unable to recover their way of life. The livelihood restoration project based on a debt refinancing scheme managed by Vision Fund failed to restore the economic status of affected communities as it only covered 35 families. Families, however, were unable to pay due to many factors that were compounded by poor compensation schemes. A displaced family merely receives US$25 a month as compensation.
The Safeguard Policy Statement requires compensation for lost assets and loss of income and livelihood, decent relocation, restoration of livelihood such that displaced families’ economic and social future will generally be at least as favorable with the project as without it, provided with appropriate land, housing, infrastructure, and other compensation, comparable to the without-project situation and full disclosure to resettlement and compensation options. The complaint and the current economic and social status of project-affected families tell a glaring picture of gross implementation of ADB projects without careful planning and disregard to safeguard measures.
In the same dialogue, the NGO Forum on ADB, a network of 250 civil society organizations raised the possible rise in displacements, human rights violations especially of vulnerable sectors brought by a strong focus on large scale infrastructure projects in ADB and in other multilateral development banks (MDBs). ADB has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the new Chinese-led multilateral development bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank whose draft safeguard policy was deemed to be inadequate and dangerous by many CSOs.