Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Undermining Development: Forced Eviction in Bangladesh

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Undermining Development: Forced Eviction in Bangladesh

Article excerpt

Development projects remain one of the primary causes of displacement worldwide. Evictions are commonly involuntary. The case of a proposed coalmine in Bangladesh clearly illustrates the potential for human rights violations in such projects, the need for stronger safeguard policies that uphold people's rights and prevent displacement, and the power of local protest.

It is estimated that over 250 million people worldwide were displaced in the name of development over the past twenty years and the number of people affected is growing despite the proliferation of international human rights instruments which stipulate that forced evictions can occur only in "exceptional" circumstances in which displacement is "unavoidable" and "solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare." Development forced evictions involving egregious violations of fundamental human rights continue to be carried out with relative impunity. However, diverse grassroots movements worldwide are taking up a rights-based approach to challenge projects that threaten to forcibly evict them and destroy their homes and livelihoods in the name of development.

In northwest Bangladesh one such movement has successfully stalled the excavation of an immense open pit coal mine, known as the Phulbari Coal Project, for over six years. A UK-based company, Global Coal Management Resources (GCM), claims that the proposed project will "deliver substantial benefits" to the country, the people of Bangladesh and the local community. Project opponents cite contract terms that will allow the company to export 100% of the coal extracted, impose no export duties, and afford the company a nine-year tax holiday and a fixed royalty rate of just 6%.

The number of people the project would evict is disputed. GCM's draft Resettlement Plan states that it intends to displace nearly 50,000 people. In contrast, an Expert Committee commissioned by the Government of Bangladesh concluded that the project would immediately affect nearly 130,000 people and ultimately displace as many as 220,000 people, as mining operations drain their wells and irrigation canals. Bangladesh's National Indigenous Union estimates that the mine would evict and/or impoverish 50,000 indigenous people belonging to 23 different tribal groups.

The project would destroy 14,660 acres, 80% of which is fertile agricultural land. Due to its elevation and location, Phulbari is one of the few agricultural regions that is protected from the flooding that regularly wipes out crops elsewhere in Bangladesh.

Although 80% of all households targeted for eviction are subsistence farmers and indigenous people with land-based livelihoods, the Resettlement Plan states that their agricultural lands will not be replaced: "most households," it notes, "will become landless." The failure to provide replacement lands violates the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Developmentbased Evictions and Displacement1 which require land-for-land compensation, and shows a reckless disregard for the large body of research showing that reliance on cash compensation alone impoverishes people who formerly had land-based livelihoods.

Despite existing water shortages, GCM plans to drain up to 800 million litres of water daily in an effort to maintain dry conditions within the mine. Expected impacts include lowering the water table by 15 to 25 metres for more than six miles beyond the mine's footprint, threatening 220,000 people's access to water. …

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