Asia begins to address the impacts of development displacement

Asia begins to address the impacts of development displacement

Recent massive population displacement triggered by conflicts and disasters generates calls for longer-term solutions to recreate sustainable livelihoods—and for more development. But Asian countries must ensure any displacement resulting from development does not add to the very problem it aims to resolve, writes Susanna Price.

The forced displacement of unprecedented numbers of people due to conflicts and disasters featured all too often in news during 2016—in lives tragically lost in passage, border tensions and humanitarian emergencies.

Large-scale involuntary migration topped the 29 most likely global risks for the first time ever in the World Economic Forum’s report on Global Risks 2016. The report noted that the most ‘impactful’ risk—failure of measures to address climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions and to adapt to the effects of the change—could displace even more people.

The UN High Commission on Refugees’ 2015 record of close to 65.3 million people on the move due to persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations, including refugees, asylum seekers and the internally displaced, will likely increase.

Adding people displaced by development projects could swell these numbers by at least another 15 million people annually, according to a 2016 report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). While development may be viewed as a longer-term solution to displacement, paradoxically, without careful attention, it also creates its own displacement through loss of land, livelihoods and cultures.

Reliable figures on development displacement are difficult to determine. IDMC (2016) quotes minimum estimates of 80 million people displaced in China between 1950 and 2015 and 65 million people in India between 1947 and 2010, but these figures are widely considered to be underestimates. Reservoir projects trigger particularly severe and protracted displacement impacts. Almost half of those displaced by such projects in China and three-quarters of those in India still remain seriously impoverished some years later.

Recent changes to laws, regulations and procedures on involuntary acquisition for development purposes are improving the terms for people displaced as a result of losing their property or livelihood, but there is still some way to go

Across Asia recent changes to eminent domain laws, regulations and procedures on involuntary acquisition for development purposes are improving the terms for people displaced as a result of losing their property or livelihood, but there is still some way to go. Almost all Asian countries now have provisions to allow those displaced by development projects to seek legal redress through the courts.

In addition to compensating for tangible assets lost, many Asian countries now also recognise and compensate for loss of economic activity and improvements on land. At least three countries—Cambodia, India and Indonesia—offer land-replacement options for rural producers who are dependent on their land and have few alternatives for livelihood reconstruction. However none of these countries requires that the replacement land be ready for cultivation. India, Indonesia and Vietnam offer relocation allowances where relocation is necessary.

A standout example is India’s 2013 law The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act (LARR). Where it applies, LARR accepts that land acquisition might threaten livelihoods, necessitating strategies to reconstruct them.

The law recognises that affected families include those without land title—people overlooked by previous legislation—but land-dependent for the preceding three years. These non-titled people losing livelihoods may benefit from livelihood reconstruction through increased compensation rates, social impact assessments (SIAs) and requirements to ensure consent of those affected. LARR includes consultative planning, negotiation and grievance redress.

Expert group

India has a legal requirement to minimise displacement by exploring alternatives and has constituted an expert group with social science expertise to review SIAs and alternative project designs that would minimise displacement.

Indonesia, too, recently introduced a landmark law—Law on Land Acquisition for Development Purposes in the Public Interest 2/2012—effective in 2014. The law reverses earlier government decrees that ignored or reduced compensation for land users without formal title. It provides streamlined planning sequences, with more consultation opportunities.

The law replaces low tax-value rates for asset compensation with independent market appraisal for lost assets and requires ‘reasonable and fair compensation’ for both physical and non-physical appraisable losses. The latter include loss of job or business, costs of changing location or profession, and loss of value in remaining assets. Compensation can be paid as cash, replacement land, resettlement, shareholding or other forms agreed between the parties.

Vietnam’s new constitution and a new land law strengthen legal protections for those affected by development displacement, with provisions to identify them and to inform and consult them before any acquisition. Provisions also recognise certain customary land tenure rights and the right to compensation, including replacement land, for economic activity on land and a relocation allowance.

Cambodia introduced a law on land expropriation in 2012 that strengthens information and consultation requirements, allows compensation for loss of economic activity, and encourages land for land compensation.

Sri Lanka introduced a national involuntary resettlement policy in 2001, a compensation policy in 2008, and several regulations under the Land Acquisition Act (1950), the latest of which (2013) brings compensation payments to replacement rates and significantly boosts consultation and negotiation possibilities for people losing land for some selected project cases. This regulation also recognises livelihood loss.

The Kyrgyz Republic, like many other Central Asian republics, has transformed its legal and regulatory framework to allow privately owned land for its citizens.

Challenges remain

Do these examples of enhancements—and there are others—provide a basis for longer-term sustainable solutions, and an effective safeguard against impoverishment? There are still challenges.

Nationally ratified human rights conventions, declarations and treaties would, if applied systematically within the process of planning and managing compensation and rehabilitation, strengthen consultations and protection for a range of vulnerable groups. Overall, better definition and mitigation of intangible social losses that often underpin livelihoods and living standards, as well as direct measures to boost replacement livelihoods, are needed. Consultation and appeals processes must also ensure fair play for the dispossessed. And effective delivery of the agreed entitlements to impacted communities and households on time and in full is an essential part of the safeguard.

Successfully recreating livelihoods would prevent those displaced by development projects from swelling the ranks of people displaced by conflict and disaster. This will make development itself a safer, less risky longer-term solution to protracted displacement.

Featured image:
Phnom Penh’s developing skyline. Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl, Wikimedia Commons.

Susanna Price is a lecturer at the College of Asia & the Pacific at the Australian National University. Her research interests include development-forced displacement and resettlement, especially in Indonesia and China.

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