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The ethics ofDIDR

The ethics of DIDR

In dealing with issues of development and displacement, important ethical questions are raised. Why is displacement often considered morally objectionable? Under what conditions, if ever, can a development project justify displacement? Is it ethically just to displace people so long as they are compensated? If so, what type of compensation is owed to displacees? Should displacees share in the direct benefits of the project by which they were displaced?

Few texts on DIDR explicitly consider in-depth the ethical issues involved. Penz's two articles ( 1997 ; 2002 ) are exceptions. He points out that many treatments opt for simple moral arguments, either categorically in support of industrial development without concern for the justifiability of the means used to accomplish this end, or categorically in opposition to displacement without consideration for the justifications that can be offered for DIDR. Penz's articles outline three broad ethical perspectives – public interest, self-determination, and egalitarianism – that can be used to justify development-induced displacement. The public interest perspective, embodied in cost-benefit analysis, supports the decision that brings the greatest net benefits to the population as a whole. Displacement and potential impoverishment are treated as costs that can be outweighed by benefits to others. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, once famously said to a group of development displacees, "If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country." The self-determination perspective privileges freedom and personal or communal control. In its libertarian form, forced displacement (at least of those who legally own property) is unjust because it violates property rights. In its communitarian form, forced resettlement violates self-determination in its use of coercion to displace. The egalitarian perspective privileges actions that reduce poverty and/or inequality. Theoretically, DIDR can be justified here if it benefits the poor at the cost of the wealthy, but questions are raised when a project benefits an under-privileged group at the cost of another such group. Compensation can be provided, but the egalitarian perspective requires that those displaced must also share in the benefits of the project.

As Penz points out, DIDR is an ethically complex issue, in which public interest and distributive concerns stand in tension with self-determination and individual rights protecting against harm and coercion. He concludes that conditions exist under which DIDR can be justified, but that these conditions are strong. They include the avoidance of coercive displacement in favour of negotiated settlement, the minimization of resettlement numbers, the full compensation of displacees for all losses, and the use of development benefits to reduce poverty and inequality. Unfortunately, in most cases of DIDR, these conditions have been violated.

In 1998, York University's Centre for Refugee Studies (Toronto, Canada) initiated a pair of research projects on the Ethics of Development-Induced Displacement ( EDID). The EDID projects have focused on assessing the ethical justifiability of DIDR and have formulated normative guidelines to be used in evaluating the justifiability of development projects that cause displacement. The projects' findings and recommendations have not yet been made available, although they are expected in print and online soon.

Websites
Ethics of Development-Induced Displacement ( EDID) research project, York University, Toronto, Canada http://www.edid.yorku.ca/
Inter-American Development Bank, Inter-American Initiative on Social Capital, Ethics and Development http://www.iadb.org/etica/ingles/index-i.cfm
International Development Ethics Association http://www.development-ethics.org/
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Last updated Aug 17, 2011