Farmers resist land-grabbing for cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria

5,000 farmers from 20 villages are being displaced for a cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria. Residents of Igbin-Ojo and seven other communities have protested over land-grabbing. Crops have been bulldozed and they fear forcible eviction.

A major cargo airport is planned in the Wasimi area (also referred to as Wasinmi) of Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, near Nigeria’s southeast coast. On 18th December 2017 hundreds of farmers from the village of Igbin Ojo and seven other communities in Ogun State protested against land-grabbing for the airport. Appealing to the Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun to intervene community leader Ademola Tiwalade Adisa stated that, on three occasions, groups of people came onto their land. Adisa reported that, on 17th November a group of people with a bulldozer invaded their land, then, on 24th November and 8th December a larger group of people encroached onto their land and began mapping portions of it. Below are photos of the 18th December protest published by The Sun Newspaper.

Narrating their ordeal of 8th December 2017 Adisa said that heavily armed men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) had forcefully arrested a number of people and, at gunpoint, forced him and his elder brother to sign an undertaking stating that they would not disturb work on their land. Villagers claim that the land trespassing and mapping was led by former chair of the Ewekoro Local Government Area, Mr. Dele Soluade, but he has repeatedly denied all the allegations, dismissing the claims he had illegally invaded the land as “unfounded” and insisting that he was acting under the instructions of Governor Amosun.

Affected villagers had undertaken a survey before the trespassing and mapping exercise began, clarifying the status of their land with the state government. They had obtained a land information certificate dated 13th December 2017 which confirmed that the land in question is completely free of all known acquisitions. The land information certificate was published in the The Sun Newspaper. Farmers’ land rights claims were fortified by this document and Abisa said: “We, therefore, appeal to Governor Ibikunle Amosun to come to our aid before he wipes our communities out in his desperation to grab our lands.”

Farmers dispossessed and crops destroyed

A 4th February an article in The Guardian Sunday Magazine painted an alarming picture of the plight of residents of Igbin Ojo, ‘fighting the battle of their lives’ to resist displacement from their ancestral land. Over the course of a few weeks crops worth millions of Naira, including cassava and pineapple plantations, had been destroyed by bulldozers and caterpillars. Farmland measuring nearly 164 hectares serving as their providing main source of income had been leveled and forcibly taken away. Fear had enveloped other farmers, including people who had invested heavily in poultry facilities which they feared losing. Farmers were distraught, dispossessed of their land and anticipating being evicted from their homes, desperately worried about their own survival and the future for their children. One woman said that that the entire community was living in fear and hunger and that children were unable to attend school because parents were unable to afford the fees.

One of the community elders, Pa Emmanuel Olukunle Opeagbe, said that the community had enjoyed ownership of the land from time immemorial up until 17th November 2017 when the first land invasion took place. He confirmed community leader Abisa’s account of land invasions by a group of people, which he described as “fierce-looking thugs”, and a bulldozer. He backed up community leader Adisa’s allegations of Soluade leading the land invasions and resorting to abuse, harassment, intimidation and threats to bulldoze people along with the crops. Opeagbe reported that Soluade had told villagers that their community would cease to exist. Along with Adisa, Opeagbe had been arrested and forced at gunpoint to sign an undertaking not to interfere with trespassing on the land.

Residents appealed to the Federal Government, Amnesty International and human rights activists for support. On 16th February the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) responded, petitioning Governor Amosun over the unlawful acquisition of land and threat to their lives. State chair of CLO, Joseph Enitan, said intervention of the governor is urgently needed because Soluade is acting under his instructions to trespass and grab lands. Farmland was being invaded and destroyed, in the name of constructing a cargo airport. Community members including council chairman Kehinde Adepegba were shocked by recent developments. New areas of land had been claimed for the airport project and encroached upon, even though the land required for the airport was allocated to the project many years previously.

A large portion of land had already been acquired for the proposed Ogun cargo airport, which was first conceived in 2005. Yet, shortly before the reports of land grabbing, in May 2017, the project languished abandoned; the only physical infrastructure that had materialized was a perimeter fence around an area of land measuring 5 x 5 kilometers. Farmers from about 35 communities, who had grown crops like rice and high-yield cassava had been displaced for the project, but they had not received compensation for the loss of their land and livelihoods. Opeagbe said the large portions of land that were “compulsorily taken for the project years back are yet to be compensated for” and that people had not protested against the airport because they believed it would bring development to their area and they would benefit from it.

Farmland is being destroyed, and farmers displaced, for an airport project which aims to export farm produce; the Ogun airport project has been described as an ‘agro-cargo airport‘. It appears that the primary purpose of the airport is envisaged as ‘transportation of agricultural products to other parts of the world’, also referred to as export of perishable (temperature controlled) goods. Only cursory mention has been made of other potential functions for the airport such as import of consumer goods, machinery and industrial raw products, pilot training school, aircraft maintenance facility, helicopter and air taxi services.

Compensation and a possible court case

At the end of February Governor Amosun announced that 500 million Naira (nearly US$1.4 million) had been allocated for payment of compensation to farmers losing their land for the airport, saying that the money would be disbursed to 20 villages directly affected by the airport project. He also said that affected farmers would be relocated to an appropriate location where they could continue their farm business, making assurances that his administration would not bring hardship to the people. It was then reported that 1,000 farmers had been compensated for loss of their agricultural land and crops and the remaining 4,000 would receive compensation within the next few weeks. If it is indeed the case that US1.4 million has been earmarked for compensation of 5,000 farmers, then assuming the same amount is to be allocated per farmer this adds up to a mere US$280 each. Igbin Ojo is one of the villages listed as beneficiaries of the first phase of compensation, along with Pataleri, Igbagba, Mosan, Igbin Orola, Igbin Arowosegbe, Idele and Balagbe.

Since this announcement GAAM has not found any reports of affected villagers’ response to the compensation offer, aside from a single resident of Igbagba village reportedly appreciative of prompt payment. There have been newspaper reports of officials making statements urging people to support the project, and exhorting its supposed benefits of employment for local people, economic development and attracting foreign investors. But it is evident that land acquisition for the airport is not supporting development, it is destroying communities. As officials proclaim potential positive impacts of the airport GAAM has not found any information on such vital matters as how the project will be funded and which firms and/or government bodies will be responsible for constructing, operating and managing the facility. But it is evident that a truly gargantuan megaproject is in the works. As he again implored residents to support the cargo airport Governor Amonsun said that ‘thousands of hectares‘ would be required for the project.

Communities resisting loss of their land for Ogun cargo airport are dragging Soluade to court in an attempt to bring the land grabbing to a halt. Their struggle has parallels with farmers’ resistance to the Ekiti airport project, north of Ogun state. In October 2015 the state government of Ekiti sent in bulldozers to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland for an airport, without even discussing the project with affected farm owners in five villages. Farmers succeeded in stalling the land clearance and suspending the airport project. Opponents from within the state government supported the farmers, arguing that the project had begun illegally without adhering to due process and criticized the high level of state funding. The farmers protested and filed a suit seeking damages for unlawful land acquisition, and in March 2016 were vindicated with a court victory upholding their claims. But in the interim ten Ekiti farmers died. Community members attributed their deaths to the terrible trauma of the injustice perpetrated by the state.


New mega-airport and ‘Airport City’ in Cambodia triggers land disputes

A plan for a new airport, one of the largest in the world on a 2,600 hectare site in the Kandal District of Cambodia, with an accompanying ‘Airport City’, has reignited one of the country’s fiercest land disputes.

In January the Cambodian government approved a plan for a new airport, one of the largest in the world by land area, on farmland in the Kandal Province, about 30 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Construction of the new airport is anticipated to commence in 2019 and a 21st December 2017 document from the Council of Ministers approved an investment proposal from Cambodia Airport Investment, a joint venture between the State Secretariat of Aviation (SSCA) and Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC). OCIC is a private firm, one of the largest finance, infrastructure and real estate companies in Cambodia, owned by tycoon Pung Khiev Se, with a track record of financing major development projects.

The land area earmarked for the airport project, 2,600 hectares, is more than six times larger than the existing Phnom Penh Airport’s 400 hectares and considerably larger than Beijing Capital Airport, the world’s second busiest passenger airport, with a 1,480 hectare site and handling over 94 million passengers in 2016. Predominantly low-lying agricultural land, the proposed site is on the northwestern shore of a large lake, Boueng Cheung Loung. Preparing the lakeside area of the proposed site for airport construction would require land reclamation and it is thought that there is some overlap with the lake itself.

Proposed site of new Phnom Penh airport and Airporrot City

A map produced by GAAM shows the proposed airport site, based on a modified satellite image published in the Phnom Penh Post. The authors of the article were not certain whether the proposed airport site is state-owned or part of OCIC’s vast land bank. The rectangular area outlined in red is the approximately 700 hectare area allocated for the airport, the adjoining shaded area, approximately 1,900 hectares, is earmarked for development of an ‘Airport City’, described by SSCA spokesman Sinn Chanserey Vutha as a mixed-use development including a commercial centre and residential housing. Chanserey Vutha explained that investors will not be able to generate a profit from the airport itself, so the land for the Airport City is being offered to investors for generating profits from commercial centres and other amenities.

Land rights protests as villagers fear eviction

Announcement of the new airport and associated development sent land prices soaring upwards and within days land for sale signs were hastily erected. Rice fields and lakeside properties in the area that had been valued at between US$20,000 – 50,000 per hectare before announcement of the new airport began selling for as much as US$100,000 or even US$200,000 per hectare. Kandal District villagers were shocked by sudden news of the airport project, along with publication of maps appearing to show the new airport and a massive multi-use development on land they have resided on and near for more than two decades. Their land ownership is disputed by a local ‘oknha’ or tycoon, Seang Chanheng, who has long laid claim to it. A government-aligned media outlet, Fresh News, released documents purporting to show that the land had belonged to Seang Chenheng all along, but even provincial authorities profess uncertainty regarding rights to the land. Regardless of this uncertainty, a large area of disputed land was recently purchased for the airport project, by OCIC in partnership with the SSCA.

Several communes in the Kandal Stung district are wracked by long-running land disputes; the airport project has raked up old tensions and new potential conflicts are looming. Already, there are indications that the authorities are siding with Chanheng’s company and criminalizing protest by villagers residing near the land earmarked for the new development. At the beginning of February over 100 villagers blocked bulldozers from digging a dam on disputed land adjacent to the proposed airport site. Subsequently, Kandal Military Police summoned six villagers to appear for questioning after Chanheng accused them of “incitement” and obstructing her machinery. Oeung Sary, one of the villagers called in for questioning, was undeterred by the order, saying “We will go to meet with the Military Police whether they arrest us or not, because we are fighting for our land…We have no guns or power to fight them with. If they want to jail us, let them jail us.”

On 19th February affected villagers staged a major protest. Over 200 people from four communes gathered at Kandal Provincial Hall to voice their complaints regarding land earmarked for the new airport and seek resolution of the dispute with Seang Chanheng. Oeung Sary remained defiant and determined to stay on the land. Refusing to appear before the military police she said “We will not go to answer. If they want to arrest us, let it be” and accused the government of “bias” in favour of Chanheng’s company. Another villager, Sorn An, said she was one of several villagers who had sold land, in her case belonging to her grandmother, to Chanheng’s company but been underpaid, selling it for $250 per hectare but receiving a fraction this amount, just $25 or $50. She said they had been intimidated during negotiation over the land, that representatives of the company had slammed the table in front of them, threatened them, locked the door and called the police.

Reigniting one of Cambodia’s fiercest land disputes

One of the fiercest and lengthiest land disputes in Cambodia has been reignited by the new airport project. Nearly 300 families living in three villages in the Kandal District, still bearing their Pol Pot era names of Point 92, Point 93 and Point 94, have resided in the area for more than twenty years. Before the residents settled upon it the land was uncultivated. Their ownership of it appears to be legitimate on the basis of a 2001 law that people living peacefully on uncontested land for five years can lay claim to it.

But in 2005 Chenheng’s men began bulldozing the land in order to claim ownership of it. The villagers achieved a rare legal victory in 2006-7 when the Kandal Provincial Court upheld their claim to the land. Some families were issued with temporary land titles, but the official land titles that they were assured of were not issued. Chanheng’s company began clearing the land again in 2009, bulldozing villagers’ farms and a much loved local temple. Company security guards and Military Police fired on villagers who came to protest, wounding three of them. Prime Minister Hun Sen did not respond to a protest outside his house. In 2010 ten villagers attempting to block bulldozers from destroying their ripening rice crops were arrested and charged with land grabbing and incitement in connection with the protests, a move decried as harassment by human rights organizations.

Suddenly, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the disputed land belongs to Min You Cultural Foundation, a company which appeared to be unregistered with no trace of it to be found in Ministry of Commerce records. The Court made this ruling even though it acknowledged “many irregularities” in the sale of the land to this company. Villagers had not heard of the company or the court case or the hearing and were not even called to testify at the hearing.

As land disputes erupt again in the wake of the planned new airport, with villagers fearing they will be stripped of their land and evicted, human rights groups argue that development on the land should cease until land disputes are resolved. Vann Sopathi, business and human rights coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that government and developers should conduct a social and environmental impact assessment of the airport project, and that it should not be permitted to proceed until a mutually acceptable solution is agreed between the company and the affected people.

Villagers are not the only people embroiled in land disputes relating to the new airport; several high-ranking officials own land in the Kandork commune which overlaps with the northernmost portion of the proposed site and a group of them complained of encroachment by an un-named Chinese company. Villagers were hired to guard their plots and one woman said she had climbed onto a bulldozer to prevent men digging her employer’s land.

Cambodia is beset with a multitude of land disputes due to ambiguities over, and  haphazard implementation of, land rights laws. The dispute over the land that is now announced as the site for a new airport is a typical example of tensions between elites with legal claims and villagers who have lived on the land for long periods and whose informal claims are backed by local authorities. Such land disputes are usually settled in favour of people with power and money, as they have the necessary influence and social connections to produce the requisite documentation.

Airport project financing

The projected cost of the new airport is $1.5 billion. Of this sum, OCIC will invest US$280 million and US$120 million will come from public funds, but the bulk of the funding, $1.1 billion, will come from “foreign banks” that at the time of the announcement remained unspecified. But it is clear that at least a significant proportion of the foreign investment will be from China. OCIC signed a “co-operation framework agreement” for the new airport with the state-run China Development Bank. Chinese financing of the new airport is one of 19 agreements to develop Cambodia’s infrastructure, agriculture and health system, signed on 11th January during a visit by Premier Li Keqiang. The deals were signed by various representatives of the Cambodian and Chinese governments in a ceremony lasting less than 10 minutes. Officials did not ask any questions and few details were given about the agreements, even though they are likely to impact heavily on Cambodia’s future development.

At this juncture it is unclear whether the new airport is intended supplement or replace the established Phnom Penh Airport. SSCA spokesman Chanserey Vutha declined to comment on whether the existing airport will be dismantled once the new airport becomes operational. Closing down the existing airport would render the considerable amount of investment in the facility in recent years wasteful and short-sighted. A US$100 million expansion of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports commenced in 2014, extending the passenger terminals and parking lots and enlarging the commercial space with more shops and food and beverage outlets. In December 2017, as plans for the new airport were announced, a new US$26 million arrivals hall was inaugurated at Phnom Penh Airport, incorporating extension of the boarding concourse.

China has also confirmed financing for a new airport in Siem Reap, a resort town most renowned for Cambodia’s most famous tourist attraction, the Angkor Wat temple complex. The new airport is to be constructed on a 700 hectare site in the Sotr Nikom district 50 kilometres outside Siem Reap city. Groundbreaking, marking the beginning of construction of the new airport, is imminent. The US$880 million agreement with China’s Yunnan Investment Holding Ltd (YIHL) allowing the state-owned company to manage the new Siem Reap airport under a 55-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) concession was actually announced in August 2017, with YIHL reportedly having already commenced land clearance. Double the capacity of the existing Siem Reap Airport the new airport will be able to handle 10 million passengers per year.

Road projects

Number 13 in the list of 19 China-Cambodia development deals is an expressway linking two hotspots for Chinese investment: Sihanoukville and the existing Phnom Penh Airport. Sihanoukville, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, is a major destination for Chinese property investment, construction boom in recent years, hotels, casinos and thousands of apartments. China has also invested heavily in Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, promoted as Cambodian equivalent of the Shenzhen tech hub, with about 100 Chinese firms already operational.

The Sen Sok district surrounding Phnom Penh Airport is also a magnet for Chinese residential development and investment. The 190 kilometre highway, 4 lanes wide for most of its length, is expected to cost nearly US$2 billion. It could lead to evictions. Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman, Va Sim Sorya, said that the expressway would likely infringe upon people’s homes and land, but that it would be the responsibility of China’s state-owned China Communication Construction Co. to provide fair compensation for affected people, with the assistance of the ministry.

The planned new Phnom Penh airport appears to be linked with another road project. An article on the Construction & Property website, which includes a map of the new airport site and a video of the joint Cambodia and China signing ceremony, shows Ringroad Number 3 running through the north of the site. The Cambodian government is building three ring roads around the outskirts of Phnom Penh; construction of the third outer ring road, part of an expressway development masterplan US$9 billion expenditure on 850 kilometres of roads by 2020, is expected to commence in 2018.

Evictions for OCIC ‘satellite city’

By land area, the airport and ‘Airport City’ project is an even bigger project for OCIC than its 387 hectare, Chroy Changvar satellite city. The airport project’s US$1.5 billion budget is comparable with US$1.6 billion for Chroy Changvar, which is now under construction and the largest property development in Phnom Penh. A protracted land dispute with residents from six communities, living on and depending upon the land for years, dates back to 1994 when the government banned construction of homes on the land, designating it for development two years later. In 1998 Prime Minister Hun Sen reassured landowners who had lived on the site for a minimum of five years that they would not be evicted, reiterating this in a 2002 speech. A number of residences were duly excluded from the project site. But 200 families were not so fortunate, in spite of being in possession of official documentation proving their land ownership, and in 2016 were informed they would have to accept the compensation offer.

In February 2016 100 people representing 359 affected families facing eviction for Chroy Changvar petitioned Phnom Penh City Hall in a bid to resolve the land dispute with OCIC. They urged the government to halt alleged housing rights violations, calling either for higher compensation of US$400 per square metre as opposed to OCIC’s offer of just US$15, or to be given back half of their land, not merely 10 per cent of it as was proposed. In April 2016, in spite of the ongoing land dispute, OCIC, protected by 50 security guards, resumed bulldozing to make way for a new road and drainage system to serve the planned city, in spite of two families laying claim to the land being cleared and one resident stating that she had not been compensated. High security echoed 2014 when security guards stopped an attempt by 40 villagers to stop machinery pumping sand onto wetlands, causing water to rush back into the river, destabilizing their homes and putting them at risk of flooding. Protest continued into 2017, in February 40 villagers gathered to demand compensation for land taken for the new city.

Cambodia’s crackdown on democracy and human rights

China is, by far, Cambodia’s biggest trading partner and and its biggest source of foreign aid, investment and tourists. Backing from China has bolstered the Hun Sen government, the world’s longest serving Prime Minister, since 1985, and its investment increases in the face of a crackdown on democracy, freedom of expression and human rights. Cambodia is regressing to its authoritarian past as a political crackdown silences opposition figures, civil society groups and independent media. Critics are slammed with accusations of treason, defamation, collusion with foreign governments and being a threat to national security. Democracy is in a death spiral. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been dissolved, its leader Kem Sokha is in jail awaiting trial on charges of ‘treason’ and 118 senior party members have been banned from political activity for five years. CNRP is the only real opposition party, so Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) will effectively run unchallenged in the upcoming national elections in July. Human Rights Watch warned of the “death of democracy”.

In November 2017 two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists were charged with espionage; still in custody, they could face a 15 year jail sentence if found guilty. They were arrested on the basis of a vaguely worded provision in the penal code criminalizing passing information to a foreign state that could damage national security. Their defence lawyer says the charges against them are baseless and a petition for their release is currently before the Supreme Court. Under the same provision, an Australian film-maker was jailed for flying a drone at an opposition rally. Two former Cambodia Daily reporters were charged with incitement after asking questions during the lead-up to the June 2017 local elections. Both RFA and Cambodia Daily closed down their Cambodia newsrooms after being suddenly issued with enormous tax bills, US$6.3 million with one month to pay in the case of Cambodia Daily, a 24-year old independent newspaper which published its final edition with the damning headline “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship”. A representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that the Cambodian government’s arrests and threats against journalists are a “clear and present danger to press freedom”.

The tightening grip of repression is also restricting activists. Amnesty International called for convictions against two environmental activists who filmed large vessels off Cambodia’s coast suspected of illegally carrying sand for export. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, from the NGO Mother Nature, were sentenced to one year in prison plus fines for this exposé aiming to galvanize action to curb the illicit trade on 26th January 2018. Foreign NGOs have been targeted, for example staff of US-based National Democratic Institute were ordered to leave the country, accused of receiving assistance from foreign governments.

As the Cambodian government persecutes citizens and NGOs for collaboration with foreign governments it is bending over backwards to enable China to increase its economic and geopolitical influence. As the 19 agreements for billions of dollars worth of Chinese investment in Cambodia’s infrastructure, including the new airport, were signed Cambodia pledged its support for China’s international goals. Specifically, Cambodia agreed to support China’s claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea, where jurisdictional disputes and construction of ports, military installations and airstrips are straining its relationships with several countries in Southeast Asia. China also gains increased access to Cambodian resources, such as oil, gas and timber, and can take advantage of low tax rates and cheap labour. Critics argue that Cambodia is selling itself short and will pay a price for China’s financial support, warning of ending up in its giant ally’s pocket and already losing its voice on regional issues.

Kulon Progo airport struggle in New Internationalist magazine

Eviction of Kulon Progo villagers from their homes and farmland for New Yogyakarta International Airport and a surrounding ‘aero city’, and the resistance struggle, a key land rights struggle in Indonesia, garnered global publicity in this article for New Internationalist magazine, published in September 2017. NewInt Kulon Progo


Global network against aviation expansion

GAAM is pleased that our work is featured in this video by Reel News about a new global network coordinating action against aviation industry expansion plans, which need to be radically constrained in order to prevent runaway climate change. There is growing resistance everywhere from a coalition of local residents, NGO’s and trade unionists, determined to stop the plans while protecting the futures of the workers who work in the industry.

The video features resistance to aerotropolis projects in India, Sydney in Australia and Jeju Island in South Korea, plus construction of a new airport destroying mangroves on Kulhuduffushi island in The Maldives. GAAM’s research on the the pivotal role of aviation in fossil fuel extraction and processing, such as the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland Australia and Rampal coal plant in Bangladesh, is also included.

It is wonderful to be part of this global network working alongside many other organizations featured in the video: Finance & Trade Watch a small Vienna-based NGO which has done a lot of brilliant work initiating and coordinating ths new global network against aviation expansion. System Change Not Climate Change Austria is at the centre of the campaign against the expansion of Vienna airport. HACAN which brings together people living under Heathrow Airport flightpaths and is heavily involved in the campaign against a third runway. Coordinadora Ote Edomex is a coalition fighting a new mega-airport with six runways and surrounded by commercial and industrial development at Lake Texcoco, just outside Mexico City.  Transport & Environment conducts research and campaigning to expose the real impact of transport on our climate, environment and health. Kuzey Ormanlari Savunmasi (Northern Forest Defence) are taking action in Turkey to protect an important ecological area between the residential areas of Istanbul and the Black Sea coast, including a third Istanbul airport which is destroying a vast area of forest, lakes, farmland and coastline. Global Forest Coalition is an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations defending the rights of forest peoples. PCS – the Public and Commercial Services Union – is a British trade union  working on strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of aviation while protecting their members’ terms and conditions. Back on Track supports improved European cross-border passenger train traffic and campaigns to maintain night train services. Biofuelwatch provides information, advocacy and campaigning in relation to the climate, environmental, human rights and public health impacts of large-scale industrial bioenergy. Zone A Défendre is the driving force behind the spectacular resistance against an airport on farmland in Notre Dame-des-Landes, near Nantes in south west France, cancelled in January 2018 after years of struggle, mass demonstrations and occupation of the land.

Let’s talk more about the aviation industry

Flying Less: Reducing Academia's Carbon Footprint

Friends, leaders, environmentalists, we would like to hear you speak more about the aviation industry.

Many influential writers and activists on environmental issues address the fossil fuels industry, but rarely discuss the aviation industry. There are some exceptions, such as Alice Larkin (@AliceClimate), Kevin Anderson (@KevinClimate), and George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot), who frequently address aviation. Many others seldom do. Check the Twitter feeds of your favorite environmentalists. Search for your favorite climate change writer’s Twitter handle plus the words “aviation” or “flying.” Tabulating a sample of tweets for one high-profile climate change thinker this week, I find 45% are about the fossil fuels industry, 10% clean energy, 45% politics or activism, and 0% aviation, automobiles, home heating, or other industries that actually use fossil fuels.

Perhaps the movement finds it easier to talk about energy production than energy consumption. This may be fine for some consumption uses, but not others. At…

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VICTORY ! and an invite to celebrate

Zad for ever

On the 17th of December Frances prime minister went onto live TV, with the minister of interior on his right hand side and that of the environment on his left. He was going to finally announce the government’s decision about the airport of Notre-dames-des-Landes and the fate of Europe’s largest defensive land occupation, the ZAD.  The destructive infrastructure project, on the western edge of France, has been resisted since its inception 50 years ago, and over the last decade it’s 4000 acres of land have been squatted and turned into a giant laboratory of commoning, with over 100 living spaces and several hundred people occupying and working the land.


The airport has been a thorn in the side of every French government that has ever tried to build it. The prime minister Eduard Phillipe spoke for twenty minutes, the cameras whirled and he tried to remain calm as he announced…

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Navi Mumbai Airport – displacement and destruction

3,500 families struggle for fair rehabilitation for displacement to make way for Navi Mumbai International Airport. Mangroves and other bird habitats will be lost and pre-construction blasting work has damaged houses and caused injuries.

Approximately 3,500 families residing in 10 villages face displacement from their homes and land for a new airport in Navi Mumbai, in the Kovar-Panvel area 40 kilometres to the east of Mumbai on India’s west coast. First proposed in 1997 and approved by the government in 2007, the response of affected people, resisting land acquisition and demanding improved rehabilitation assistance, is just one of many factors that stalled the Navi Mumbai International Airport project. The inevitability of environmental damage led to delays in being granted government clearances. Biodiverse wildlife habitats encompassed within the site will be destroyed: 121 hectares of forest, 162 hectares of mangroves and 404 hectares of mudflats. Environmental groups have long criticized the airport site selection, saying that the government refused to consider possible alternatives. Waterlogged and low-lying, the site will need to be raised from 2 metres to 5 metres above sea level, posing construction challenges.

GAAM map of Navi Mumbai International Airport siteA mega-airport is planned, handling 10 million passengers annually upon completion of the first phase, rising to 60 million passengers per year upon commencement of full commercial operations with two parallel runways, which is scheduled for 2030. If this traffic projection proves accurate Navi Mumbai will be India’s busiest airport. The airport core area, allocated for aeronautical activities, is 1,160 hectares of land. In addition to the core airport site, three areas have been earmarked for non-aeronautical activities (airport-linked commercial development such as hotels and retail), taking the total airport area to 2,268 hectares. Three plots of land have been allocated for rehabilitation and resettlement for the affected villagers.

Levelling the site and diverting rivers

Villagers have not yet relocated to the resettlement areas. Yet, in October 2017, as they remain in their homes, massive earthworks preparing the site for construction of the airport began, a work programme that is expected to take between 18 and 24 months.  The course of Ulwe river which runs north-south through the site is to be re-routed by 90° and the Ghadi river running alongside the northern boundary is also being re-channelled. Hills are being blasted away with explosives to make way for the airport runway, the soil and stones being utilized for filling in and levelling the site. The height of Ulwe hill, the largest hill on the site, is being reduced from 90 metres to 10 metres. Vast volumes of loose earth and stones will then have to be compacted down to make it stable enough to withstand airport operations.

Difficult terrain brings serious construction difficulties. The land is swampy and flood-prone, large areas are frequently waterlogged, especially during the monsoon season. “Even from a simple engineering point of view, building an airstrip on reclaimed land, mudflats and mangroves – it is going to be very unstable,” predicted Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust. As of December 2017 most of the site was underwater. Critics of the airport project also point out the high level of state expenditure on pre-construction earthworks that are necessary to make the fragile coastal zone sufficiently resilient to withstand the new airport, an estimated 2,345 crore (US$370 million).

CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation), a city planning agency formed by the Maharashtra state government, is responsible for implementing the airport project. GVK, an Indian conglomerate with interests in energy, resources, transport and other sectors, has been awarded the contract to build and operate the airport. By May 2018, CIDCO expects to hand the project over to GVK for completion of pre-construction groundwork on the airport site before the building phase begins. Predictions of project cost escalation have proved well founded. By 2017 CIDCO’s cost estimate for the project had more than tripled, escalating from US$753 million to US$2.5 billion.

As earthworks In November 2017 two thousand residents of the villages of Targhar, Pargaon, Ulwe, Kolhi, Kopar, Ganesh Puri, Chinchpada, Dungi and Manghar gathered to step up their demands for fair compensation and rehabilitation from CIDCO for vacating their land and homes to make way for the airport project. The villagers discussed many concerns including unnecessary land acquisition and united their struggles to form a new organization: Navi Mumbai International Airport Affected Peoples, which will take up their demands with CIDCO.

The villagers’ meeting followed a major protest by residents of six villages on 12th October, which brought pre-construction work on the airport site to a halt. An article on the news website stated that 5,000 people attended the protest. Only 10 per cent of the affected families had vacated their homes, over 3,200 families were still living on the site and they resolved to remain in their homes until the plots of land allocated for resettlement were developed. On 27th October it was announced that, following a meeting between CIDCO officials and affected residents, attended by 500 people and with a heavy police presence, work on the Navi Mumbai Airport site would resume under heavy police protection. CIDCO reported that four platoons of state reserve police had been made available.

Blasting damages houses, injures workers and villagers

The state is protecting the airport from people with legitimate grievances, but failing to protect people from construction of the airport. Blasting work caused residents to complain about tremors affecting their houses and has caused injuries. At the time of the October 2017 protest explosives were being set off three times per day, loosening the ground in order to cut and level Ulwe hill to make way for the airport runway. Taking place at a distance as little as 100 metres from people’s homes blasting sent stones flying distances of up to 200 metres, including into a nearby school. Vibrations from the blasting had caused cracks in the walls of houses in the village of Ulwe, making some people afraid that their houses might collapse.

On 6th January 2018 five engineers working in the site were injured, two of them severely, by supposedly ‘controlled’ blasting work that was underway 300 metres away from them. Explosions had triggered a landslide and the workers were hit by falling rocks. Villagers in Siddhart Nagar which is situated at the foot of Ulwe hill suffered injuries too; five women were bruised by stones coming through their roofs and a seven-year old boy who had been playing outside his house needed two stitches to his head. Affected residents, who had argued that blasting should not commence until they are rehabilitated, organized a protest march opposing blasting on the airport site and called for an atrocity case to be registered against CIDCO and GVK. Two days after the landslide, as GVK signed the concession agreement with CIDCO, the men of the village stalled work at the blasting site while the women made an unsuccessful attempt to meet with CIDCO officials at their offices. The father of the boy injured in the landslide, said “My wife and a few other women went to meet CIDCO officials, but they were not entertained. Why is it difficult to rehabilitate us when crores are being spent on the project?”

After the blasting injuries CIDCO officials ordered Siddhart Nagar residents to vacate their homes to get them out of the way while blasting work takes place, for two hours every day 1-2pm and 5-6pm. Villagers voiced strong objections to this disruption of their daily lives and being forced to stand in scorching sun. CIDCO’s lame excuse for undertaking the dangerous blasting work with people still in the vicinity is a claim that Siddhart Nagar villagers have not been rehabilitated because more than half of of the households were established after the 2013 cut-off date for eligibility. A representative of the villagers insists this is not the case and that they have documents proving their residency in the area for the past seven to eight years.

Residents’ long struggle for fair rehabilitation

Residents being displaced for Navi Mumbai Airport, facing loss of their homes, communities, land and livelihoods, have sustained a long-term struggle for fair rehabilitation. Back in 2010 a public hearing was boycotted by residents of all 18 affected villages standing to lose their land. Approval of the airport project appeared to be a foregone conclusion; journalist Nidhi Jamwal wrote that the hearing was ‘wrapped up in hour’, with the few journalists that attended having been told by their employers that negative stories would not be published. There was not much to report anyway as a recently completed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and a study on the diversion and channeling of rivers were not made public. People from the affected villages stood outside the meeting waving black flags in protest, demanding due compensation.

Villagers being displaced for the airport, referred to as project affected persons (PAPs),  are dissatisfied with the rehabilitation and resettlement areas and say that the offers of land and cash sums to build new houses in these designated areas are in sufficient to compensate for what they will lose. PAPS are being offered construction aid to build their new houses, but say that the amount, calculated in 2011, is low. Their request that construction aid be increased to reflect current costs seems particularly reasonable in the light of CIDCO’s repeated upward revision of airport construction costs.

At the time of the 12th October 2017 protest, which was precipitated by apprehensions over CIDCO’s looming 17th October deadline for villagers to vacate their homes, Nata Pratil, president of the committee of MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) which is demanding justice for the 3,500 families facing displacement, said that the deal offered to villagers to give up their land was altered after they had agreed to it, the allocation of space for a new house being reduced. CIDCO claimed that the plots for displaced families were ready, but PAP representatives disputed this, saying that schools, utilities, streetlights, roads and a crematorium had yet to be developed. And PAPs said nothing had been done to make provision for replacing temples that will be lost to the airport. CIDCO had committed to allocation of plots of land suitable for relocation of ten old temples, along with compensation for rebuilding. In November 2017 some PAPs alleged that records proving their land ownership had been destroyed by CIDCO.

Loss of mangroves and the risk of bird-strikes

A significant regulatory hurdle to building Navi Mumbai airport, pertaining to the mangrove forest in the airport site, was removed in 2009. Coastal Regulation Zone notification, ensuring tight controls over construction, was amended in order to allow conversion of mangrove forest to an airport. Replacing mangroves with the impermeable concrete and tarmac of an airport will disrupt the water balance in the wider region. Mangroves are a natural buffer between land and sea, the interwoven roots preventing coastal erosion, absorbing rainfall and tidal surges. Excess water has to go somewhere and removal of mangroves for the airport could make the surrounding area more susceptible to flooding.

CIDCO’s suggestion of compensatory plantation to make up for loss of mangroves, about 200 kilometres distance from the airport site in Dahuna, met with criticism that these complex, locale-specific ecosystems, richly biodiverse and taking time to evolve, cannot be created instantly. CIDCO then suggested a mangrove sanctuary close to the airport site, commissioning a study of wetland bird habitats that was conducted by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The study highlighted the conflict between airport operatiosn and birds. Dr. Deepak Apte, director of BNHS cautioned that “A mangrove park within the perimeter of aircraft takeoff and landing zones can be an extremely serious aviation hazard”. Mangroves are an attractive habitat for many bird species, so a mangrove sanctuary poses a risk of bird strikes, collisions with aircraft that can cause fatal accidents.

In 2015 the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change National Board for Wildlife withdrew the requirement for a mangrove sanctuary as part of the project. The developer will be required to make the area designated for the mangrove sanctuary unattractive to birds to reduce the risk of bird strikes. An environmentalist from Vanashakti, an NGO focused on forest, mangrove and wetland protection, questioned the sincerity of CIDCO’s promise of a mangrove sanctuary, wondering if it was known to be unfeasible due to the bird strike risk, and merely a ruse to help get clearance for the project.

Airport operations are likely to impinge upon birds habitats beyond the site – coastline, creeks, mangroves and inland wetlands. A survey conducted BNHS showed an estimated 266 bird species living within a 10 kilometre radius of the airport site, including the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. Aviation experts advised that a plan for a bird sanctuary to protect migratory flamingos, in the Panju-Funde wetlands, 20 kilometres from the airport site, would be under the take-off and landing flight paths and a bird strike disaster waiting to happen. Large birds such as flamingos pose the most significant bird strike risk. Debi Goenka criticized the airport authorities’ opposition to the Panju-Funde bird sanctuary: “In the name of development, we cannot simply kill all the beautiful birds and destroy their wetlands’ habitat. They could have easily shifted the proposed airport to some other place 10 years ago”

Interlinked megaprojects and car dependency

Construction of another megaproject, the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL), the longest bridge in India – is to be speeded up, for completion in time for it to be linked with Navi Mumbai Airport. Stretching across Mumbai Bay, six lanes wide and 22 kilometres in length, the new bridge will link the mainland with Sewri on the eastern edge of South Mumbai. Like the airport, the bridge is set to destroy birdlife habitats. First mooted in the 1970s it met with opposition because of the impact on Sewri mudflats, an area containing mangroves and providing an important feeding ground for the thousands of flamingos flocking there every winter. MTHL’s starting point in Sewri, extending along 5 kilometres of coastline, poses a threat to an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 flamingos and 38 hectares of formerly protected mangroves will be lost, along with 8.8 hectares of protected forest at the Navi-Mumbai end.

The shoreline sections of MTHL will impact on people as well as the environment. A 2016 assessment survey revealed that the homes of 229 families, 53 business premises and 10 commercial structures in Sewri will be demolished to make way for MTHL and an official outlined a plan to resettle then in Bhakti Park, Wadala, in southern Mumbai. Artisanal fisherfolk from nine villages whose livelihoods are impacted by MTHL will receive a one-time compensation fee. As of July 2017 over 3,000 compensation claims had been submitted and the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMRDA) was about to begin sifting through the applications to identify ‘genuine claimants’. The cost of the MTHL bridge is comparable to Navi Mumbai International Airport at US$2.6 billion. Since 2005 when bids for the MTHL were first invited the cost has escalated significantly, by 350 per cent, due to delays, rising input costs, mandatory environmental and rehabilitation and design changes. Citizens will foot the bill directly through tolls and indirectly through various taxes.

A 5.8 kilometre coastal road connecting the MTHL bridge with Navi Mumbai International Airport is a megaproject in its own right; large stretches of the road will be elevated with a 1.76 kilometre section over mangroves to be built on stilts. The coastal road is just one of a proliferation of road infrastructure projects enabling traffic growth to support the new airport: new roads, widening of existing roads up to 8 and 10 lanes, loop roads and interchanges. Journalist Sanjay Banerjee envisages these ‘speed corridors’, described by CIDCO as enabling “smooth and seamless vehicular movements”, having an ‘octopus-like grip‘ across Mumbai. The airport-centric road building programme is designing in a high level of dependence on cars, it is based on a projection that 85% of air travellers will use private vehicles.