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NGOs call for more aid to rail evictees

NGOs call for more aid to rail evictees

A COALITION of local rights groups yesterday called on international donors bankrolling the Kingdom’s railway refurbishment scheme to do more to help those residents displaced by the project.

The rail project, which is being supported by the Asian Development Bank and AusAID, the Australian government’s development agency, came under scrutiny last month, when two children drowned at a site for resettled residents.

In a statement yesterday, the coalition, which includes Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, the Housing Rights Task Force and urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said while the agencies had made positive changes at the sites, efforts remained “inadequate”.

“People who have been resettled thus far have been unable to rebuild adequate housing and reestablish their lives and livelihoods to a minimum acceptable standard without going into significant debt,” read the statement, which came following meetings between NGO representatives and donors on Friday.

The statement argued that the ADB-funded refurbishment of National Road 1, which began in 1999, demonstrated that poor resettlement policies and inadequate compensation plans could trigger a “downward spiral into deeper poverty” for those affected.

“Over a decade after the project was first started, the ADB is still compensating those adversely affected,” it added. “We do not want to see these mistakes repeated.”

Concerns about the resettlement policy came to a head last month after Hut Heap, 13, and her nine-year-old brother Hut Hoeub drowned in a pond at a Battambang relocation site.

After the incident, NGOs wrote to the heads of the ADB and AusAID, expressing “grave concerns” about the treatment of resettled residents.

Nora Lindstrom, an adviser for STT, said relocated households had been offered differing amounts of compensation in accordance with an ADB resettlement plan.

However, the ADB’s estimated costs for building materials were set at 2006 levels, she said, meaning that many families were left with just a few hundred dollars to construct new dwellings, even once living allowances were included.

Many people ended up going into debt in order to reestablish their homes and businesses at the new site.

“They end up borrowing a lot of money at really hefty interest rates,” Lindstrom said.

David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said in the statement that donors should commit additional resources towards ensuring that the poor are “not forced to pay the price of development”.

Rights groups claim as many as 4,000 households are set to be affected by the rail project.

In a statement on Thursday, the ADB said issues at resettlement sites were being “actively addressed” through dialogue with the government’s Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee.

“ADB’s position is to ensure compliance with the ADB safeguard policy by providing additional support to the government agencies concerned,” it stated.

Electricity has been installed at the Battambang site since September, the ADB said, adding that all relocated families also have access to subsidised drinking water through the IRC.

In total, the ADB has approved $84 million in loans for the railway project, with AusAID contributing an additional $21.5 million. The project, which will rehabilitate lines connecting Kampot to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh to Battambang, is set to be completed by 2013.

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