Tag Archives displacement

EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity for People Displaced by Large-Scale Investment Projects

By Kei Otsuki and Griet Steel

Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers have created sophisticated  guidelines on involuntary resettlement procedures. They have relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life. How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

“VIVER É DIFICIL (Living is difficult)” reads the slogan on a water tank set up next to a typical concrete resettlement house in Mozambique (Photo). A plastic water pipe connects the water tank to a gutter, placed under the corrugated zinc roof, designed to facilitate the harvest of rainwater. In this semi-arid part of Africa, however, rain is increasingly scarce. “God stopped the rain”, says the owner of this house, David, who also wrote the slogan on his water tank.

The difficulties David is facing are, however, not only caused by the lack of rain. He is one of the resettlers who were displaced from the Limpopo National Park in south-western Mozambique in 2013. These people had agreed to be displaced and resettled on the promise that they would have a better and modern life in the resettlement village built for them. The Park administration, sponsored by the German Development Bank and the South African Peace Park Foundation, had claimed that it needed to invest in wildlife-based ecotourism without human presence for the greater sustainable and economic development in the region.

Living in the National Park, David has had his own hut and independent huts for his two wives and their children. In the resettlement village outside the Park, his household of more than 10 members crams into one small concrete house with only two rooms. What’s more, the Park administration had promised to donate water pumps to the resettles to irrigate their new collective farm. However, since the pumps were delivered at the village leader’s house 5 years ago, they never got connected.

Considering these drawbacks, you would not expect that, before the resettlement took place, David and his fellow community members had actively participated in public consultations with the resettlement officers from the Park administration and local governmental officials for almost a decade. They had discussed and built consent on housing, irrigation, and water pumps. Yet, after their resettlement was completed and new life started, new situations unfolded and the new living conditions remained difficult.

Internalising Follow-Up Processes

This is not unique to the particular case of David’s resettlement village. Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers – development banks, in particular – have created sophisticated involuntary resettlement guidelines, and relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But, as David’s case exemplifies, the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life.

As debates on mining-induced displacement and resettlement show, the core of the problem lies in the externalization of the cost of displacement and resettlement. Displacement and resettlement are treated as side effects with limited budgets allocated for compensation. It is vital instead to envision how resettlement projects could be firmly internalized in the core business of investment projects. Projects should allocate substantial financial and human resources for following-up on the resettlements’ sustainable development.

How can we, as development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement?

At the upcoming EADI-ISS International Conference, we propose a panel in which colleagues working on different cases of displacement and resettlement can share their insights and perspectives about the processes through which resettlement projects evolve, develop and perhaps create chains of displacement effects and grievances over time. These unfolding realities in post-resettlement contexts cannot be fully planned and agreed upon in consultations. For example, in David’s case, the resettlers are in constant negotiations with their host community to negotiate land for cultivation or sharing basic infrastructure such as water boreholes. Yet, we know little about effects of such unfolding interactions for the overall sense of justice and sustainability.

At the same time, there might be cases that positively shape cooperation and solidarity through post-resettlement interactions. In any case, one question remains: How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

The understanding of solidarity is vital – in these contested frontiers of displacement and resettlement in both rural and urban areas. We thus call for papers that delve deeper into the lived experiences of resettled populations, such as David’s, to deepen our understanding of what solidarity means in different cases of displacement and resettlement. In addition, we are interested in discussing methodological issues pertaining to our responsibilities of doing research on such contentious issues.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

About the authors:

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Kei Otsuki  is a sociologist/geographer specialized in sustainable development in Latin America (esp. Brazil) and Africa (esp. Ghana, Mozambique) as well as in Japan. She holds a PhD in development sociology from Wageningen University and MSc and BA degrees from the University of Tokyo. Her research interests center on equitable and sustainable development, environmental justice, and remaking of communities and geopolitics, especially regarding investment-induced displacement and resettlement on resource frontiers.Griet-640x427.jpg

Griet Steel is an assistant professor in International Development Studies at the Department of Human Geography and Planning. She is an anthropologist by training and has been involved in several international research projects addressing the interplay between gender, technology, land and mobility and the broader challenges of sustainable urban development.


The credibility problem of United Nations official statistics on Internally Displaced Persons by Gloria Nguya and Dirk-Jan Koch

Our research, notably Gloria Nguya’s PhD research, which she recently defended at the ISS, focused on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in urban settings in eastern DRC, particularly Bukavu and Goma. Bukavu and Goma are provincial capitals of the Kivus with about 25 years of instability. According to the latest United Nations figures there are exactly 25.619 IDPs in Bukavu[1]. These very precise figures have surprised us, because when we started our field research we noted that there was a large confusion about who should be counted as an IDP. During our research we found people who considered themselves IDPs, even though they were just regular migrants according to official definitions. Others who thought they weren’t IDPs were actually IDPs according to these official definitions. In this blog we single out one key crucial question to which there are so many contradicting responses: ‘When is somebody no longer an IDP?’.

During the field research, we encountered confusions on when somebody is no longer an IDP. Whereas some actors, such as local NGOs, argued that somebody couldn’t be labelled an IDP anymore if he or she could rent a house, others argued that one remains an IDP as long as one has specific unmet needs related to their displacement. Partly because of this problem of identifying IDPs in urban areas, we noticed that virtually all international organizations stopped targeting IDPs in their urban programming altogether. They would focus only on general vulnerability criteria, such as a housing situation. They omitted specific IDP needs related to their displacement status, such as trauma, access to documents or to remedy. This is worrying, as the plight of IDPs is an important element used by agencies to attract attention and funding.

Overall, the main inconsistency relates to methodologies: whereas in reality there are substantial differences in when an IDP is counted as such by humanitarian actors in the field (especially in urban areas), the UN data gloss over these differences. To arrive at the number of 25.619 IDPs the UN only included people that were displaced in 2016, 2017 and 2018. So, if you are a displaced person from 2015 or before, you are no longer counted in the statistics. This is too bad for you; however, the interesting thing is that as such this cut-off point goes against the definition that the UN itself supports. The Guiding Principles on internal displacement do not mention anything about a duration, quite to the contrary: an IDP remains an IDP as long as no durable solution has been achieved (global report on internal displacement 2019, p. 68). Well, for the IDPs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) these principles do not appear to hold: IDPs prior to 2016 in the DRC fall hence between stools.

We do not argue that the numbers provided by the UN are too high, or too low: we also do not know. In our research we noticed that to determine if somebody is an IDP according to the UN definition one needs to engage in conversations with the potential IDP in terms of the origin of the move, their needs or issues. The methodology that the UN has used, notably asking key informants, such as neighborhood leaders, instead of potential IDPs themselves, isn’t accurate enough according to us.

Luckily there is an interesting initiative from the United Nations Statistical Commission. They have launched an Expert Group on Refugee and IDP statistics in 2016, who finished their first report. Their sobering finding is that, while agreement on the IDP definition exists, ‘less agreement exists on when an IDP should stop being counted as displaced. Most states do not follow the definition and framework […] variations in state practice are widespread, making international comparability difficult.’ In 2020 they should have finished their guidelines (amongst other on how to measure ‘durable solutions’) and have started capacity building to roll them out (IMDC, 2019, p.56).  So, there is a hope that better IDP statistics will become available in the future if the United Nations and their backers follow through on their intentions.

To conclude, we feel that instead of creating some kind of fake sense of certainty, the United Nations may better admit that they only have rough guesses on the number of IDPs. We argue this because the confusion about IDP numbers does not only affect programming, but it also affects the relationship between the host government and the humanitarian actors, which has repercussions on the sustainability of humanitarian efforts on the ground. The DRC government even boycotted the DRC pledging conference in 2018 because the numbers weren’t correct, ‘the high numbers of displaced people are frightening investors, and the country is much more dependent on investment for development than development aid’ said the DR Congo’s Minister of Communications. By being more transparent about the challenges of IDP statistics, the UN has a clear argument about why more investments are needed in creating better displacement monitoring guidelines and mechanisms. Until these are in place, it is only better to have a moratorium on coming up with specific IDP numbers.

[1] https://displacement.iom.int/node/3911, p.2

About the authors:


Gloria Nguya has just completed her PhD in livelihoods strategies of Internally Displaced Persons in Urban Eastern DRC at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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Dirk-Jan Koch is professor by special appointment for International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud Univeristy in Nijmegen and Chief Science Officer at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.