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Rail evictees’ struggles remain

Rail evictees’ struggles remain

3 Por Sen Chey

Since Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project forced Yoeung Pharun to relocate from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district to Por Sen Chey in 2011, she and her husband have been unable to work.

“I sold second-hand clothes at Tuol Sangke market and my husband is a carpenter. But here, we stopped going to work in Phnom Penh because it’s far from the outskirts,” Pharun told the Post yesterday. “We have to pay about 30,000 riels [$7.50] travelling – we can’t afford it.”

Possessing more than $4,000 in debt, Pharun has been questioned six times by a Por Sen Chey district official for late payments. She fears she may be jailed.

Pharun and her husband are just one family among more than 140 that moved from homes located centrally along Phnom Penh’s railway to a far-flung relocation site in Trapaing Anchang village.

According a report released yesterday by urban housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, people who chose to find their own accommodations in the city are faring better than their counterparts who made the government-brokered move.

“This has been a resettlement failure,” said Nora Lindstrom, STT’s program manager and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, it was completely predictable.”

The project, which is primarily funded by the Asian Development Bank and AusAID seeks to rehabilitate or reconstruct 641 kilometres of main line railway. The project has involved mass relocations up and down the line, and NGOs and representatives have for years decried the process for providing insufficient compensation and support.

The latest study – the most comprehensive released to date – surveyed 187 households comparing those who relocated with those who stayed, or moved from the resettlement site.

Employment dropped significantly among those who moved to Trapaing Anchang; 57 per cent of households included at least one person who lost his job since relocating, the STT report said. Only 14 per cent of households that moved elsewhere experienced job loss.

Incomes among people who relocated to Trapaing Anchang dropped between 2011 and 2012, with an 89 per cent increase of people earning less than $150 per month and 97 per cent of them reporting they struggled to pay back debt.

Significant strides have been made in improving conditions in Trapaing Anchang since STT finished collecting data, Eric Sidgwick, ADB country director, said in a statement.

“Initial data from March 2013 involving 44 households in Trapaing Anchang shows the average resettled household debt has decreased to $875,” Sidgwick’s statement said. “Monthly average household income has increased to $373.67.”

Lindstrom acknowledged some attempts at improving Trapaing Anchang’s conditions, including financial training. But since ADB has refused to publicly disclose data gathered in a recent self-commissioned report – which STT and other NGOs have said is highly critical – it is unclear how deep the improvements run.

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