Railway Families Recommend Fixes to ADB Assistance Plan

Representatives for thousands of Cambodian families who have lost land to a development project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) say just about every part of the bank’s new plan to help them would still leave them worse off than before and have asked for a raft of changes.

After years of complaints from the 4,000 affected families, the ADB in February finally admitted to major flaws in its design and implementation of a $143 million project to rehabilitate Cambodia’s long-neglected railway system, flaws that ultimately made those families worse off. In April, it released a government-approved action plan to help make things right for the families.

The families and NGOs helping them lambasted the plan immediately, however, saying it would still leave the ADB far short of complying with its own safeguard policies, by which the bank must ensure that families affected by its projects do not end up in a worse situation than before the projects began.

In a detailed review of the plan submitted to the ADB on Tuesday, the families recommend a number of changes, including help paying down the debilitating debt many evicted families were forced to take on and a better scheme for calculating the full compensation they deserve.

The NGOs Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International prepared the reply after consulting with the affected families earlier this month.

“The mandatory nature of safeguard policies means that the ADB must use all means at its disposal to ensure that the project is brought into full compliance and that inaction or the adoption of half-measures that will not produce required results are unacceptable,” the reply says.

The action plan drops two key recommendations the ADB’s independent review panel had made for bringing the railway project in line with Bank policy, on the grounds that the Cambodian government would not agree to them.

The panel had recommended a scheme to help the families pay off the new loans they had to take on because of their evictions, and urged that they be provided with compensation for the income they lost out on after moving.

The government refused to sign off on either, but the families insist that both recommendations be fully restored.

They say the action plan proposes a flawed approach for calculating how much additional compensation they deserve, and ask for the expansion of an existing program intended to help them earn additional income.

“If these failures are left unresolved, the project will continue to leave hundreds of vulnerable families impoverished and without redress,” the reply says.

They suggest each family that has been forced to move be paid a minimum of $1,500 for the land it gave up. They recommend that the families of three children who died at or near ill-equipped resettlement sites—two of the children drowned while fetching water from a pond, and another was hit by a car while walking to school—be provided an unspecified “solution.”

The ADB said Wednesday that it received the recommendations and was reviewing them, but declined to comment on any of the particular suggestions.

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