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Displacement and resettlement

The Ills of Displacement and Resettlement of People in Rural Areas

Displacement and resettlement affect mostly rural people, who also bear a disproportionate share of the costs of infrastructure on the one hand, and climate change on the other, especially in situations where a dam or hydroelectric power station need to be stationed. This article delves into the ills of displacement and resettlement of people in rural areas.

The term displacement refers to the movement of population from their place of usual residence to another area. This movement is forced in the sense that in the absence of a project or natural disaster residents would not have chosen to leave the area.

The movement can be either internal or international, and is often permanent, though some possibilities of return might exist in certain cases. By contrast, resettlement is a population movement planned directly by the government or private developers, where an area is chosen in order to resettle the population.

Over the years, people have had to leave places where they were born and bred for new homes that they never planned for. In a city like Lagos for instance people have been thrown out of their places of abode especially in Lagos wetlands for acquiring those places illegally or without any form of approval.

In other instances where there seems to be a form of legality to people’s places of abode, the said places have been earmarked for developmental projects and it’s only a matter of time before the expected happens.

There are displacement and resettlement induced by mitigation projects, those induced by large scale adaptation projects and infrastructure, and those induced directly by climate change impacts that cause government to resettle populations in the name of adaptation.

The choice of resettlement can be made after discussion with the affected populations, but can also be imposed upon them, just like it’s usually the case in Lagos and other urban cities in Nigeria. Resettlement can also involve the payment of some compensation for the affected populations, albeit this is hardly done in developing countries.

Displacement and resettlement affect mostly rural people, who also bear a disproportionate share of the costs of infrastructure on the one hand, and climate change on the other.

Historically, large scale infrastructure and development projects have generally been located on lands occupied by vulnerable populations such as indigenous communities and smallholder farmers. Forced resettlement of entire communities has been a common feature.

Agreements about mitigation, compensation, and possibly even later revenue streams to the displaced groups may be forged in advance of project implementation, but equity, accountability, and respect for the rights of the displaced people is often inadequate.

The World Bank identified eight economic and social risks of displacement:

  1. Loss of land
  2. Loss of employment
  3. Loss of shelter
  4. Marginalization (reduced economic mobility)
  5. Increased morbidity and mortality
  6. Greater food insecurity
  7. Loss of access to common property/services
  8. Social dis-articulation (break-up of community organizations and other groups)

Asides developmental projects, natural disasters and wars can trigger internal or international population movements. Some population movements are voluntary whereas others are involuntary.

There is a recursive relationship between population and development. Displacement is an unintended negative externality of developmental projects.

Displacement by development projects is the single largest cause of involuntary migration in the world. Cumulatively development projects rather than war cause the greatest population movement. Such projects displace approximately 15 million people a year.

The greatest burden of displacement is to date caused by dam construction which is credited with the displacement of 40-80 million people.

In Africa the dominant population movements are attributed to refugees and development induced displacement. Whereas drought and civil wars in Africa have received widespread coverage as fundamental causes of population movement.

There seems to be no data base of people and communities affected by developmental projects and the victims are often hidden from public view. Development project inception is often marked by political grandstanding with emphasis placed on the need for trade-offs between meeting national socio-economic developmental targets and debt servicing rather than on the welfare of development impacted communities.

Displacement exerts social, environmental and economic costs on exceedingly vulnerable and marginalised communities with tenuous and variable livelihoods. A disproportionate number of displaced people live in rural areas.

Loss of land bodes on loss of means of survival and recovery to economic conditions before displacement is often not guaranteed.

In most cases villagers are involuntarily moved from their ancestral homes and relocated less desirable places. Some of these displaced people often times, are reluctant to talk about their experiences. They think that negative comments about their experiences may compromise their chances of getting compensation in the future.

In a politically polarized country, villagers fear that if they complain too much they may be branded opposition supporters and meet an even worse fate. Considerably therefore displaced people are generally invisible and dispersed.

Some displaced people have no other choice but to live with relatives elsewhere while waiting and hoping that socio-economic conditions at the resettlement farm improve sufficiently to support sustained livelihoods.

Furthermore displacement can lead to the truncation of the education of students who happen to be in the affected communities, some even drop out of the educational system entirely. While the ones who manage to continue have to undergo a period of adjustments to new learning and teaching environments. Changing schools also entails additional costs to parents related to purchase of new uniforms and ancillary costs.

Lack of civil society presence in rural areas makes it difficult for affected families to mobilize a critical mass of people to challenge any displacement. Although people who live in rural areas usually don’t feel comfortable when forced to live their ancestral land, they have no means of resisting such evacuation.

Worse still villagers are not directly involved in the physical planning of the resettlement area. Displaced families do hope for a wide range of entitlements that they never really get. Common forms of compensation range from transport cost, compensation for lost economic and non-economic assets, lost income and common property resources houses within the precincts of their parents’ homestead.

Replacing houses lost to developmental projects in like manner for all households is fraught with problems. It creates a sense of social sameness among a differentiated group of people. Additionally many displaced people who had several houses or cumulatively more room space than the houses they were allocated in the resettlement area feel aggrieved and want to be compensated for their loss needs in the future.

Displaced people regret leaving behind their ancestors’ graves. They consider it an act of betrayal. They also feel that it is like casting away one’s identity. Those displaced often claim they were not consulted about choice of resettlement area.  Most times they are not even compensated before resettlement.

Development induced displacement can cause landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalisation, morbidity, food insecurity, loss of access to common property resources and social disarticulation. This leaves the displaced communities worse off than they were before relocation.

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