RPN 19 published May 1995

8. Resettling the displaced: development affected people and refugees by Chris McDowell

The last issue of the RPN focused on environment and displacement. As a follow-up, this article reports on a conference on development-induced displacement and impoverishment (DIDI) which took place in Oxford, UK, in January 1995.

`Population displacement by development programmes is now a worldwide problem of a magnitude previously unsuspected'1

The forced uprooting of people is now widely recognised as a matter of global concern which raises important issues of human rights. At two recent Oxford conferences, delegates were told that in addition to 18 million cross-border refugees and 24 million internally displaced, there are now a further 25 million 'environmental refugees' and at least 90 million people displaced as a consequence of infrastructure programmes for dam construction and urban transportation developments. Following the Refugee Studies Programme's (RSP) January conference on development-induced displacement and impoverishment (DIDI), a paragraph on displacement and resettlement was included in the final document of the World Social Summit in Copenhagen, emphasising social disintegration as a major consequence of forced displacement. Having alerted world leaders, policy makers, donors and lenders to the problems, efforts are now focused on finding ways of combating the social disintegration and impoverishment which arise out of failed attempts to resettle those displaced as a consequence of planned development.

The DIDI conference highlighted again the need to bring together the two bodies of literature: research knowledge and practical expertise gathered by those engaged, on the one hand, in the resettlement of disaster-related refugees (both 'international' and internally-displaced) and on the other, in the resettlement of development displacees4. In 1996 the RSP will host a second conference with the aim of achieving precisely this, by addressing the nature of impoverishment in both contexts and examining the current priorities, both in research and at the operational level, for improving resettlement and the rehabilitation of displaced communities. It is recognised that those displaced by development face similar problems to refugees and others uprooted by war or political violence: for too many the move is life threatening. By drawing together the strengths of social science research into resettlement, the processes of forced displacement whether the prime cause be poverty, environmental degradation, dam building, war or political manipulation will be better understood. Working with economists and planners, researchers can directly contribute towards improving the devising, supervision and evaluation of displacement and resettlement operations, by putting first those who are caught in the displacement process.

The development sectors in which forced evacuations occur are expanding as developing nations respond to, and direct, urban growth and demographic trends, with infrastructure investments, expanded irrigation and food production, and politically-motivated decisions which add to displacement. It is now fifteen years since the World Bank first developed a policy on involuntary resettlement. In the intervening years the Bank has been only partially successful in ensuring that such guidelines are followed in its own assisted projects; other aid agencies, lending organisations and governments have been slower still to incorporate international standards into their own policies and legal frameworks. Mistakes that were made thirty years ago are being repeated today. If displacement is unavoidable and resettlement is to be properly managed, then a first step must be to ensure that firm policies and legal frameworks are enacted. But what should those policies address?

First there is the link between human rights and policies for promoting development, and the need to protect basic human rights, including the rights and entitlements of project-affected people. Human rights issues here include general economic rights, particularly in ensuring that the displaced share equitably in the benefits of development for which they have made sacrifices. As Michael Cernea (the World Bank's Senior Social Policy Advisor) has pointed out, the legal questions regarding the definition of rights and entitlements are central to how displacement and resettlement take place. Lassailly-Jacob, writing about resettlement in Africa, has concluded that it is vital that relocatees (especially on already inhabited relocation sites) have full title to the land guaranteeing security of tenure and 'a motivation to conserve their land as a viable asset and to invest their own resources in its improvement'. Economic rights should include also the payment of just compensation for land, property and other assets lost. Failure to recognise the right to compensation has led to active resistance against resettlement and sharp political conflicts.

In the discussion of human rights and development, the position of the world's 300 million indigenous people has become increasingly prominent. Indigenous people tend to be more affected by infrastructure projects, such as the construction of dams, because they are frequently found in more isolated areas and because of their special sacred ties to their territories and cultures. Relocation is a traumatic experience for indigenous people not only personally but because of the threats to their lands, lives and cultures as a consequence of initiatives which invariably reap only short-term economic benefit for a few interested powerful minorities. Gray's conclusion that the costs of development projects should 'include the economic, social and cultural impoverishment arising from [their] implementation', has a relevance to all project affected people.

Importantly, Cernea is working to ensure that the social and personal costs of uprootment arising out of planned development are part of the realistic appraisal of the feasibility of development projects funded by the World Bank. He has expounded most clearly a model of the impoverishment process which is both a warning model of displacement/impoverishment and a means of analysis, highlighting almost certain outcomes of poor planning and mismanagement, and offering a basis for the reestablishment of displaced communities and redirected policies. There are eight characteristics or sub processes in impoverishment: landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalisation, increased morbidity, food insecurity, loss of access to common property and the umbrella process of social disintegration.

Over the past few decades numerous research projects have examined this impoverishing process: how populations are affected when they are forced from their homes and required to adjust to new physical and social environments, often with diminished capital and other resources and with major disruptions to their social organisation and culture. Studies have shown that programmes designed to help reduce poverty are fraught with serious long-term risks of people actually becoming poorer than before displacement. Understanding of this impoverishing process is vital in informing policy making and influencing project design, resource allocation and assistance strategies.

A series of papers presented at the DIDI conference substantiated this impoverishing trend with examples from a range of development situations in the Philippines, Mexico and India. Of Cernea's eight characteristics of impoverishment, what came through most clearly in these papers was the final one: that of social disintegration. While most of the prior features refer to individual households, social disintegration refers to the breakdown of whole communities, of local systems, of the social fabric altogether. And having explained the process of social disintegration, there is a responsibility to turn it on its head, to seek ways of rebuilding communities, to advance the social integration of resettlers, to reconstruct family and kinship networks, to advance mutual help networks.

It is in this endeavour that benefit could be derived from comparing and revealing shared experiences between development displacees and refugees by examining causality, magnitude, impoverishment processes, rights and entitlements and assistance strategies and the social mechanisms adopted in both settings for coping and for reestablishment. While the similarities between development relocatees and refugees should not be overstated, the resemblances are many:

Both lose their houses and households and they temporarily or permanently lose their lands, water, wells, workshops, vending stalls or other assets. In both cases, their productive systems are dismantled, their ways of living are disrupted and their very livelihood is critically jeopardised. The supporting social networks in which their existence was embedded are unravelled. Both relocate to previously unknown places, among host populations that are often suspicious or directly hostile.14

By understanding the similarities in the consequences of these two types of uprooting, the research community would be in a position to contribute directly in devising strategy alternatives to assist the resettlement of refugees and development displacees. The key to both is the kind of intervention that enables people to shake off their dependency on relief aid, reestablish themselves on a productive basis and to become self-sustaining again. As Harrell-Bond observed, often the least addressed dimensions in such programmes are the cultural and psychological ones, including the patient social engineering work necessary to reestablish the refugee population in new viable settlements, with access to productive activities, some employment and services. Within this territory of comparative research there is a need to examine the administrative regime which in both cases manages the removal of populations and their resettlement in a camp or new rural or urban location, and the provision of food aid.

The 1996 DIDI conference, in drawing together the two sets of knowledge, will offer a fresh perspective on the 'development versus relief' issue and the role of humanitarian assistance for those uprooted and relocated. The deployment of resources and the approach and strategy used in socio-economic reestablishment will be examined by those who have experience of one or both assistance environments.

Chris McDowell organised the DIDI Conference at Wadham College, Oxford, in January 1995. He has written a doctoral dissertation for the University of Zurich on Sri Lankan Tamil asylumseekers and is currently a researcher at the Refugee Studies Programme.


1. Cernea M 'Restudying the Research Divide: Studying Refugees and Development Oustees' in In Search of Cool Ground: Displacement and Homecoming in North-east Africa [ed] T Allen, London and New York: Currey Publishers, 1994, p 13.

2. Executive Summary, Scientific/Technical Conference on Environmental Refugees, Green College, Oxford, UK, February 27-28 1995.

3. Resettlement and Development: The Bankwide Review of Projects Involving Involuntary Resettlement 1986-1993, The World Bank, Washington DC, April 1994, pp 13.

4. Cernea M ibid and Cernea M `Understanding and Preventing Impoverishment from Displacement: Reflections on the State of Knowledge', Keynote Address, DIDI Conference, Wadham College, Oxford, UK, 37 January 1995.

5. Evicted! The World Bank, British Aid and Forced Resettlement, A Briefing by The Ecologist on the World Bankns 1994 Resettlement Review, December 1994.

6. Mr Kalitsi, Chief Executive of the Ghana Volta River Authority, made this observation at the DIDI conference on the basis of a 30 year involvement with the Volta River hydroelectric project.

7. Cernea M ibid, 1994:16.

8. LassaillyJacob V `Key Issues for Preventing Impoverishment in LandBased Resettlement Programmes', draft paper presented to DIDI Conference, Jan 1995.

9. Gray A `Indigenous Resistance to Involuntary Relocation', paper presented to DIDI Conference, Jan 1995.

10. Colson E `Opening Address', DIDI Conference, Jan 1995.

11. Tamondong S `State Power as a Medium of Impoverishment: The Case of Pantabangan Resettlement in the Philippines', paper presented to DIDI Conference, Jan. 1995.

12. Barabas A and Bartolome M `Mediation or Self-Management: Large Dams, Social Movements and Ethnicity', paper presented to DIDI Conference, Jan 1995.

13. Hari Mohan Mathur, `Struggling to Regain Lost Livelihood: The Case of People Displaced by the Pong Dam in India', paper presented to DIDI Conference, Jan 1995.

14. Cernea M ibid, 1994:20.

15. Harrell-Bond B Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugees, New York:Oxford University Press, 1986, cited in Cernea M ibid, 1994:24.

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October 1996