A Citizen’s Guide to the Mekong region: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 12 Nov 2008

The Asian Development Bank needs to be far more accountable for projects that damage the lives of some of the poorest people in Asia according to a new Oxfam Australia report.

The report is aimed at citizens of countries in Asia where the bank operates and provides advice on holding the bank to account.

Oxfam Australia will launch A Citizen’s Guide to the Greater Mekong Subregion at the Mekong Public Forum at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok at 12.30pm on Wednesday, 12 November.

Oxfam Australia has found that despite the Asian Development Bank’s claims that its Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Program has led economic growth and poverty reduction in the region, many of the poorest people are worse off than ever before.

Oxfam Australia Advocacy Coordinator Jonathan Cornford said the Bank’s obsession with large-scale infrastructure developments including transnational highways, hydropower dams and regional energy grids had resulted in stronger economies, but with casualties along the way.

“Many of the rural poor in the countries where the Mekong flows – and especially ethnic minorities – are experiencing a declining quality of life, largely because of the destruction of the forests and rivers upon which they depend for food, drinking and housing,” Mr Cornford said.

The ADB-funded Highway 1, part of the GMS Southern Economic Corridor, linking Cambodia to Vietnam, had damaged the land, housing or livelihoods of thousands of people and forced many villagers to borrow money in order to restore their incomes, as compensation payments were often delayed for years. This has led to a high level of debt among many of the dislocated villagers.

Said a resident who was dislocated by Highway 1 and now lives in the Stung Slot resettlement community in Cambodia: “(Before HW 1) our job was to collect and sell wood. We also caught fish and sold them at a market. After the HW1 Project, we lost our job. We are now selling soup here. We earn more than our income before the Project, but we have to buy ingredients and materials, so the actual profit is less. On rainy days, we have no customers. We are old now … Our debt now is 1,000 USD. We need money to pay back our debt.”

The Asian Development Bank’s programs for the Mekong region aim to promote regional integration and prosperity. Most communities affected by projects under the GMS Program are unlikely to know what the Bank is and how to find information on projects. They also are unlikely to know how to voice their complaints and seek redress when a Bank-funded project such as a hydropower dam negatively impacts their lives.

This report, for civil society groups and individuals in Mekong countries, aims to help people understand what the GMS Program is, how it works and how it can be held accountable by citizens. It includes a ‘citizen’s toolkit’ of resources, and an analysis of the GMS Program.

Mr Cornford said the report demystified the GMS Program so that people could have a go at keeping the ADB accountable. “The more people know what action to take when ADB-funded projects harm their lives, the more the Bank may take concerns seriously and consult with communities on projects that will transform their lives,” he said.
Read the report online or for copies phone +61 407 476 114.

Notes to Editors:

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) incorporates six countries – Cambodia, China (specifically Yunnan and Guangxi provinces), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Asian Development Bank established the GMS program in 1992 to transform these six countries of the Mekong region into one borderless economy.

For more information or to interview Jonathan Cornford, please contact:
Laurelle Keough, Media Coordinator – Advocacy & Campaigns, Oxfam Australia, on +61 409 960 100, laurellek@oxfam.org.au