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Types of development projects causing displacement

Types of development projects causing displacement

As mentioned in the introduction, the types of development projects causing displacement range across a wide spectrum. For the purposes of this research guide, these types of projects have been divided into three categories: dams, urban renewal and development, and natural resource extraction. Table 2, composed of data from the WBED report, gives a breakdown by cause of displacement of the distribution of people displaced by World Bank projects active in 1993. While these figures are likely indicative of broader trends, it is worth remembering that displacement in Bank-assisted projects accounts for only a fraction of the estimated global total – about 3 per cent of global dam displacement and 1 per cent of global displacement from urban and transportation projects.

Table 2. Distribution of displacees by cause of displacement in World Bank projects (active in 1993) with resettlement
Cause Projects Percentage People Percentage
Dams, irrigation, canals 46 31.5 1,304,000 66.4
Urban infrastructure, water supply, sewerage, transportation 66 45.2 443,000 22.6
Thermal (including mining) 15 10.3 94,000 4.8
Other 19 13.0 122,000 6.2
Total World Bank 146 100 1,963,000 100


Of the types of development projects that bring about physical displacement, dams and their related infrastructure, including power stations and irrigation canals, stand out as the largest contributor to displacees. This is partially a product of the enormous scale of many dam projects – China's Danjiangkou Dam displaced 383,000 people, while its ongoing Three Gorges Dam project will displace 1.2 million. The high overall level of dam displacement is also a product of the speed with which dams have been built since 1950. The International Commission on Large Dams ( ICOLD) reports that the world had 5,000 large dams in 1950 and over 45,000 by the late 1990s.

The WBED has calculated that roughly 40 per cent of development-induced displacement every year – over 4 million people – is a result of dam projects. Over the range of projects assisted by the World Bank, 63 per cent of involuntary displacement and resettlement occurs in dam projects. Overall estimates of dam displacement over the latter half of the twentieth century range between 30 and 80 million people. As with the figures for overall development-induced displacement, these estimates often do not cover the full extent of displacement outside dam and reservoir sites.

The literature on large dams and their economic, environmental, and social impacts is vast. McCully's book (2001) and the WCD report (2000) provide comprehensive overviews of the impacts of large dam projects, including direct displacement and resettlement, but also other impacts that could lead to indirect displacement. These include: the inundation of valuable farmland and animal habitat; the capturing of sediment by dams, leading to erosion and soil degradation downstream; the endangerment of freshwater habitats, leading to the extinction or threatening of riverine and wetland lifeforms; reservoir-induced seismicity; the spread of diseases by insects that thrive in stagnant reservoir water; and environmental destruction and human death as a result of dam failure or collapse. The report by Bartolome et al. (2000) , prepared to inform the WCD report-writing process, offers a comprehensive discussion of recent practices concerning the displacement, resettlement, rehabilitation, and development of people adversely affected by dam projects. It also suggests a number of ways to improve accountability and facilitate negotiation in future resettlement schemes.

Case studies of dam projects dominate the literature on development-induced displacement. While only a few are listed here, many more are listed in other sections of this research guide. The volume edited by Picciotto, Van Wicklin, and Rice (2001) includes six case studies of dam displacement and resettlement, including that in the Upper Krishna Project in India, the Shuikou and Yantan dam projects in China, the Pak Mun Dam Project in Thailand, the Kedung Ombo Dam Project in Indonesia, the Itaparica Dam in Brazil, and the Nangbeto Dam in Togo. The WCD website provides online access to countless case studies of dam projects throughout the world, many of which have involved displacement and resettlement. International Rivers Network (IRN), and its regular publication World Rivers Review, are good sources of news on dam and water infrastructure projects and their impacts on people and the environment.

World Commission on Dams ( WCD)
International Rivers Network (IRN)

Urban infrastructure and transportation

Urban infrastructure and transportation projects that cause displacement include slum clearance and upgrading; the establishment of industrial and commercial estates; the building and upgrading of sewerage systems, schools, hospitals, ports, etc.; and the construction of communication and transportation networks, including those connecting different urban centres. Cernea's paper (1993) , The Urban Environment and Population Relocation, provides a brief review of the literature and gives a comprehensive overview of some of the most important issues involved in urban displacement and resettlement.

The WBED has estimated that 60 per cent of development-induced displacement every year – about 6 million people – is a result of urban infrastructure and transportation projects. This same proportion is not reflected in World Bank-assisted projects – in 1993, only 22.6 per cent of displacement was caused by urban and transportation projects. Evidence from case studies suggests that the number of people displaced in individual urban and transportation projects is much lower than the number displaced in many large infrastructure projects. Indonesia's Jabotabek project, which displaced 40,000-50,000 people, and India's Hyderbad Water Supply Project, which ousted 50,000 people, are among the largest urban displacements on record. However, Cernea's paper points out that, while displacement from individual urban development projects is low, the frequency of such projects is higher than in some other sectors, resulting in a high overall number of displacees. Furthermore, while the amount of land appropriated for individual urban projects is often minimal compared to that acquired for individual large dam or irrigation projects, the ratio of people displaced per unit of expropriated land is usually higher as a result of high urban population densities. This situation only looks to be intensifying as the global trend of urbanization grows. While in 1980, only 15.8 per cent of the world's population lived in cities with 4 million or more residents, demographers suggest that by 2025 this will rise to 24.5 per cent globally and 28.2 per cent in developing countries. Rural development projects that have caused displacement have played their own role in this rise, as many resettlers have either been relocated to cities or have migrated there from poor resettlement sites in search of employment.

Perlman's book (1976) is a well-known account of favela (slum) removal and forced relocation in Rio de Janeiro, while Pereira's chapter (1994) provides a discussion of the resettlement of 130 families in two separate urban relocation operations in Mozambique, which together generated space for an urban renewal project. Manga's chapter (1994) depicts the displacement and resettlement of roughly 45,000 people in the Nylon Urban Upgrading Project in Douala, Cameroon, which aimed to restructure and improve conditions in an urban "spontaneous" settlement. As is the case in most cases of DIDR, many displacees in the Nylon project were amongst the city's poorest residents.

Natural resource extraction

Principally, this category of projects includes those having to do with mineral and oil extraction. Despite their similarity, forestry extraction projects are dealt with in the research guide focusing on conservation-induced displacement. No cumulative or annual statistics are available on the number of people displaced by natural resource extraction projects world-wide; however, anecdotal evidence and figures from World Bank projects (shown above) suggest that displacement in such projects is much lower than in many dam and urban renewal and development projects.

The DIDR literature on mining and oil projects is sparse compared to that on dams and urban renewal and development projects. This is likely due to two factors. Firstly, mining and oil projects cause only limited displacement compared to large infrastructure projects. Secondly, the displacement caused by such projects is often indirect – for example, seepage from an oil pipeline might cause drinking-water contamination and the destruction of farmland, leading families to abandon their homes and lands for safer conditions elsewhere. In contrast to the direct displacement caused by many large infrastructure projects, such indirect forms of displacement are less apparent and seldom lead to formal resettlement operations. They are therefore less examined in the literature.

Chatty (1994) discusses a case of petroleum exploitation that led to physical and livelihood displacement among members of the Harasiis tribe, a pastoral nomadic group in Oman. Human Rights Watch's ( HRW) report (1999) on oil extraction activities in the Niger Delta of Nigeria details the abuse of local dwellers' human rights by the Nigerian government and participating corporations in their efforts to quell local opposition to the extraction projects. It also discusses the projects' environmental impacts, including those stemming from regular oil spills (at least 300 annually, according to Nigerian official estimates, which are likely low) and the construction of roads and canals, which contribute to the displacement of some from the region. Amnesty International's report (2000) discusses the oil industry and its role in human rights abuses in Sudan, including the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people from their homes. Government troops have reportedly used bombings, helicopter gunships, and mass executions as tools to ensure that people flee the region.

Downing's report Avoiding New Poverty: Mineral-induced displacement and resettlement (2002) offers an overview of the issues surrounding displacement and resettlement in mining projects and suggests ways forward in preventing the impoverishment of displacees. A special issue by Cultural Survival Quarterly (2001) looking at mining projects on indigenous lands contains a number of articles dealing with mining-induced displacement and resistance to it.

Last updated Aug 17, 2011