A COALITION of NGOs has written to the heads of the Asian Development Bank and AusAID, expressing “grave concerns” about the treatment of Cambodians affected by the refurbishment of rail lines.
The letter came amid reports that two children drowned at a resettlement site in Battambang province.
Lines connecting Kampot to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh to Battambang are being refurbished in a process that is expected to be completed in 2013.
ADB has approved US$84 million in concessional loans for the project, and AusAID, the development arm of the Australian government, has contributed $21.5 million in grants.
The statement released by the NGOs referred to the drowning deaths of two children, ages 13 and 9, as they fetched water from a local well earlier this year. The NGOs said their family faced a shortage of water because no infrastructure had been provided for resettled families.
The coalition called “for reparations for the aggrieved family of the two children”, and called on ADB and AusAID to “temporarily halt funding tranches” until similar problems at all relocation sites were solved.
They say that a total of 4,000 families will be affected by the project.
Nora Lindstrom, an adviser for the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, which signed the letter, said yesterday that her group had documented cases in which households “had received as little as a few hundred dollars in compensation” in addition to a plot of land at a relocation site.
“Such a paltry amount does not allow these households to rebuild their homes to adequate standards,” she said.
“Combined with changed livelihood opportunities, this situation has led many households to borrow money to survive.”
A spokeswoman for the Australian embassy declined to comment on whether AusAID would freeze future funding for the project. She said resettlement policies were enacted by the government, but were required to abide by the ADB’s “Policy on Involuntary Resettlements”, which she said mandated fair compensation to ensure that people’s livelihoods “are at least as good as they were before resettlement”.
“AusAID has been involved in ongoing discussions to ensure that the resettlements are managed in accordance with this policy,” she said.
Sothea Ros, external relations coordinator for ADB in Cambodia, also declined to say whether funding would be halted.
“We have been in contact with the government’s interdepartmental resettlement division about the circumstances surrounding the incident, and they have agreed to conduct a re-investigation,” she said via email.
“ADB’s social advisor is also scheduled to visit the site in the coming week to meet with the bereaved family and local officials to learn more about the circumstances surrounding this tragic event.”
She said issues related to resettlement and compensation “remain the responsibility of the government of Cambodia”. “ADB is committed to working with the government to address and resolve all resettlement-related issues that are brought to its attention,” she added.
Touch Chankosal, secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said the government had paid compensation and resettled affected families according to ADB guidelines.
The NGOs “might as well say ... whatever they want, but the donors will not agree to give us the money if [we] did not help the impacted families”, he said. “We have to fulfil the conditions that the donors set, otherwise they will not give us the money.”