Derailed: Cambodia’s Poor Paying the Price for Railway Development

Posted on February 23, 2012 by WITNESS

By David Pred

Every year millions of people around the world are forcibly displaced from their lands, homes and livelihoods to make way for large-scale infrastructure projects. Most often those who are forced to sacrifice their place on earth for both public and private interests are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.  They are thus the least equipped to cope with the challenges of physical, economic and social displacement and are thrust into even deeper poverty and social exclusion as a result.  These development disasters are often justified in the name of poverty reduction, when they in fact create and exacerbate poverty.

This has been the case with the Rehabilitation of the Railways in Cambodia, a project to restore and privatize Cambodia’s 650 kilometers of railway infrastructure, financed mainly by loans and grants from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Around 4164 families who live alongside the dilapidated railway tracks are adversely affected by the project, including at least 1200 families who are required to relocate up to 25 kilometers away from their former homes and communities.

Bridges Across Borders Cambodia has been monitoring the resettlement process and impacts of the Railways project for the past two years.  Last week we released DERAILED, a report with the findings of more than 200 interviews with affected families and an analysis of whether the project has adhered to international human rights standards and ADB safeguard policy.

We also produced this video, with voices of the affected people, to accompany the report (about 12 minutes):

ADB and AusAID say that the project will bring increased trade and economic growth to Cambodia and this in turn will benefit the poor, but the people who have to move out of the way for this growth are being given as little as $75 in compensation.  Many have had to borrow hundreds of dollars from private moneylenders at extortionist interest rates just to be able to rebuild their house and survive after losing their jobs.  As a retired railway worker set to be displaced by the project stated succinctly in the video: “This is not called poverty reduction.”

It is never acceptable for the poorest citizens to be asked to pay the price of economic development, but it is an outrage that these costs should be borne by the poor for a project financed mainly by international development agencies whose missions are to alleviate poverty.

You can support Cambodia’s railway communities by writing to ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda and the Director-General of AusAID Peter Baxter and reminding them that aid projects must respect human rights.  Tell them to suspend this project until a credible plan is in place to repair the harms that been done to affected families and prevent further harms.

For more information, visit our website Bridges Across Borders Cambodia.

David Pred is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, an international solidarity organization working to support people’s action for social justice, inclusive development and human rights in Cambodia since 2005.  

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