On the morning of 27th November 400 officials – police, army and representatives of Indonesia’s state-owned airport developer PT Angkasa Pura I – arrived to survey land for New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA) in the Temon District in the Kulonprogo Regency, on the south coast of central Java. An attempted land grab for the airport, and the courageous resistance of residents resisting forced eviction is documented in a video by Jogja Darurat Agraria. In the space of just two days bulldozers have wreaked devastation reminiscent of a powerful earthquake that struck the island of Java in 2006. Parts of some houses have been destroyed and trees and plants uprooted leaving bare earth.
The land does not belong to PT Angkasa Pura I and residents are refusing to leave or to sell their property. Officials, some of them armed with guns, inform the residents that they will register their houses and instruct them to vacate, and that they have been instructed to clear the land, to tear down everything, by 4th December. But 300 residents are refusing to sell the land passed on to them by their ancestors. Their livelihoods depend upon the farming that they are determined to continue, their values embedded in the culture and nature of the southern coast area.
Women play a prominent role in resisting the forced eviction for the new airport, they stand their ground against the intimidation of large numbers of male officials, facing down heavy verbal aggression, refusing to obey commands, refuting claims that the airport is for their economic benefit and asserting their right to remain in their homes. A crowd of officials confront another woman on her doorstep, try to push the door down, shout at her to get out and try to force their way into her house. She shouts out to the officials that their role is to protect civilians. Then some men begin to wrench open the door. Another woman, also confronted by officials at her door, says that they told her that received three warnings of the impending eviction, she denies this and insists that she did not receive any warning.
Officials are shown cutting off the electricity supply to some of the houses. This move is intended to amplify the threat of destruction and make other residents give up their resistance to eviction, dismantle their homes to salvage whatever they can, and vacate the area. Jogja Darurat Agraria posted photos on Facebook showing villagers gathering to witness and resist the bulldozers at work and the severing of electrical supplies.
The Indonesian government’s attempt to evict Kulon Progo villagers from their homes and farmland at this particular time, beginning on 27th November 2017, adds irony to insult and intimidation; 29th November is designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders. A video posted on 28th November shows distressed residents – women, men and children – bravely standing and lying in the path of the bulldozers as roofs are ripped off houses and trees uprooted. They are dragged away by officials. Cutting off electricity supplies continues.
The new airport is a key project of the Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, which is pushing for accelerated infrastructure development. PT Angkasa Pura I claims that the process of land acquisition and clearance for NYIA is under control. In reality a land grab is taking place. Forcible eviction for the airport is a shameful and serious abuse of human rights and the very opposite of the government’s stated commitment to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), specifically SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
The struggle against eviction for New Yogyakarta International Airport dates back to 2011. The site comprises six villages, 2,875 households with 11,501 residents, most of whom sustain agricultural livelihoods cultivating many crops in the fertile soil, including watermelons, chillie peppers and eggplant. Construction of the mega-project commenced and continues without approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and there are serious concerns that destruction of sand dunes will make the coastline more vulnerable to erosion and flooding. An aerotropolis around the airport is planned, a 2,000 hectare ‘airport city’ containing hotels and other tourism facilities, shopping malls and industrial zones.
Authorities have perpetrated repeated acts of repression and violence against villagers resisting displacement for NYIA, which, in its pre-construction phase, was referred to as Kulon Progo Airport. The worst incidence occurred on 16th February 2016. Police and army officers overseeing a boundary-marking procedure subjected a number of residents who had gathered to voice their objections to a vicious and brutal attack. People were choked, kicked and trampled on. The case was taken up by the Asian Human Rights Commission which condemned the excessive use of force and called for prosecution of the officers who were in charge of the exercise.
A new report shows that the aviation industry’s claims of ‘green growth’ are illusory. Biofuels to replace conventional kerosene, schemes purporting to ‘offset’ emissions and ‘green’ airports all fail to curb growing climate change impacts.
Climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, the most carbon intensive form of transport, are rising rapidly. Under current growth projections, with construction of new airports, expansion of established airports, expansion of the aircraft fleet and anticipated increase in the number of air passengers and flights, aviation’s emissions are anticipated to increase between four- to eight-fold by 2050. The aviation industry, led by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) promotes an image of ‘green’ growth through technological innovation, new fuels and offset schemes which purport to compensate for increasing aviation emissions through support for reductions in other sectors.
A new report, The Illusion of Green Flying published by Finance and Trade Watch, analyzes and debunks these aviation industry’s claims of ‘green’ growth. Illustrating the expected trajectory of aviation growth, the report begins with a map showing the 423 new airports that, according to aviation industry consultancy CAPA (Centre for Aviation), are planned and under construction, along with an estimated 121 additional runways.
The report shows that the minor efficiency gains and emissions reductions will barely scratch the surface of the massive increase in emissions that is looming with the projected aviation growth rate. A drive to replace conventional petroleum-derived aviation fuel with biofuels threatens to fill up plane’s fuel tanks with much needed food crops, not as yet nonviable biofuels derived from non-food sources such as algae. In addition, aviation biofuels are not climate-friendly as the total emissions, once the supply chain from cultivation, processing and transportation is factored in, can be even higher than from oil-based aviation kerosene.
Avoiding taking measures to reduce emissions, the aviation industry pursues offsetting schemes which merely provide a license to pollute, effectively attempting to outsource its emissions to other industries. Land based offset projects involving forests are particularly problematic as carbon storage in forests over long term periods cannot be reassured and, as the main agents of large-scale deforestation continue to wreak destruction, access to forests is restricted for people depending upon it for their livelihoods. Schemes to offset biodiversity proceed on the erroneous assumption that destruction of a unique, complex habitat can be compensated for by nature protection in a different location. Airports are promoted as ‘green’ or ‘carbon neutral’ by means of accreditation schemes that incorporate measures such as more energy-efficient airport operations and carbon offsets. These schemes, heavily promoted to air passengers, conveniently exclude and detract attention from the 95% of emissions which result from the actual flights.
The report also considers other aviation issues. A raft of subsidies (such as fuel tax exemptions and subsidies to aircraft manufacturers and airlines) makes flying artificially cheap. Aviation has non-CO2 impacts such as aircraft noise and emissions of particulates, which have serious negative health impacts on people living under flightpaths. The inequities of flying are considered; only a small minority of the global population ever set foot on a plane and wealthy people take the vast majority of flights. Resistance against airport expansion is vital to prevent inflated projections of aviation growth, used by the industry in lobbying for government support for expansion, becoming a reality. An ‘infrastructural lock-in’ is looming. Once airports are built or expanded there is tremendous pressure to utilize these emissions intensive facilities, with yet more subsidies and legislative support to support its passenger and cargo throughput projections and ensure economic viability.
Tackling aviation growth requires systemic change of the global economic system, a just transition from fossil fuel dependency, cultural transformation and individual commitment to reduce high-carbon lifestyles. All over the world there is opposition to aviation growth and the report concludes with some ‘resistance highlights’, local campaigns in many countries including France, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia, and organizations working on relevant issues including biofuels, combating deforestation and promoting train travel as a more sustainable alternative to flying. There is also an Executive Summary outlining the main points of the full report.
Youth and other activists from some twenty civic groups have joined five villages in their struggle against a planned ‘aerotropolis’ on Jeju Island, South Korea.
Still waiting for a statement from the national government’s Ministry of Land and Transportation, residents of South Korea’s largest island continue their fight against the proposed second airport project. The project would push hundreds of locals off of their land and have the more drastic effect of radically transforming the island, environmentally and socio-economically.
The Polish government has approved a plan for a mega-airport and ‘airport city’ on a 3,000 hectare site. An area of farmland has been identified as a suitable location for the project.
On 7th November, the second day of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, the Polish government approved a plan to build a new mega-airport, called Poland Central Airport or New Central Polish Airport, handling as many as 100 million passengers per year. The project would result in a a major increase in Poland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Poland, host of the next climate summit, COP24, in December 2018, is already widely regarded as a climate renegade for its continued investment in coal plants, and had the dubious honour of being awarded Fossil of the Day award in Bonn, for its relentless efforts to siphon European Union (EU) funds for clean energy into subsidizing its ageing coal plants. Announcement of a major airport project makes a further mockery of the country’s commitments to address climate change.
The proposed airport site is in Baranów, a rural gmina (administrative district) 40 kilometres to the west of Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. The map below, commissioned by Polski Fundusz Rozwoju (PFR) in 2008 and included in an article published on 8th October 2017, about a meeting on the airport between representatives of the government and Baranów municipality, shows two areas identified as suitable for the airport project: a 3,421 hectare area to the north of the map and a larger 11,338 hectare area to the south. Another variant of this map was included in a 100 page document discussed at the government meeting which adopted the airport plan, Poland’s biggest infrastructure project in recent years, on 7th November. At this meeting it was confirmed that the planned location of the airport is the Stanisławów village area, near the southern boundary of the area identified as suitable for the project.
A map produced by GAAM shows the villages within the boundaries of the two areas identified as suitable for the airport project and the existing road and rail links.
A satellite image of the Stanisławów village area, confirmed as the planned location for the new central airport, shows the villages and small parcels of cultivated land that characterize the wider area.
A mega-airport, multi-modal transportation hub and an aerotropolis
The schedule for the new airport is for preparatory works to be complete by the end of 2019, then for construction to be complete and operations to commence by mid-2027. A mega-airport is planned, one of the largest in the world with four runways, initially serving 45 million passengers per year, rising to 100 million, a passenger throughput as high as the world’s busiest airports, almost as high as Atlanta in the US and higher than the current traffic levels at Dubai Airport and Beijing Capital Airport. A multi-modal transportation hub is planned, integrating the new mega-airport with existing and new road and rail infrastructure. Plans for the airport include a rail station and the project is also referred to as Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK), which translates as Central Communication Port. The proposed airport site is between Warsaw and Łódź, Poland’s third largest city, and a high-speed rail line connecting the two cities is planned. The A2 motorway running between Poland’s western and eastern borders is immediately south of the proposed site. Immediately north of the airport site is the rail line between Berlin and Moscow, via Warsaw, providing a high-speed service that commenced operations in December 2016.
The 3,000 hectare land area for the new airport is far larger than would be required even if the number of passengers meets the projection of 100 million per annum. A 3,000 hectare site is more than 50 per cent larger than the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta in the US which handles 104 million passengers per year. Atlanta Airport’s site covers 1,900 hectares and encompasses substantial commercial development including more than 200 concession outlets such as retail, food and beverages. The oversized proposed land area for Poland Central Airport could be linked to plans for an ‘airport city‘ or aerotropolis. A 1,200 hectare new city is envisaged, with hotels and showrooms. Under the government resolution outlining plans for the new airport legal and infrastructural changes to Baranów would allow for construction of business parks, conference centres, an exhibition centre and office complexes.
A government financed megaproject
The budget for the airport project, combined with the road and rail infrastructure, is estimated at between €7 – 8 billion. Polish citizens will bear the brunt of the enormous cost of the project; the main investor is the government. The 7th November 2017 resolution announcing construction of the airport approved the financing structure as well as the location. An article in the second 2017 edition of Airport Development News, an industry newsletter published by Airports Council International, stated that two state-owned financial institutions, Polish Development Fund (Polski Fundusz Rozwoju – PFR) and Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK), Poland’s national development bank, would be ‘heavily involved’ in financing the project.
Possibilities for European funding have been considered. The Airport Development News article states that between 75 and 80 per cent of airport construction will be financed by international institutions such as the EIB (European Investment Bank) and EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). Such investment by the EIB and EBRD is doubtful as state aid rules preclude allocation of EU funds for construction of the airport. But a June 2017 article published by legal analyst firm Lexology stated that EU funds could be tapped for the road and rail elements of the project. The total cost of the rail infrastructure elements of the megaproject complex is estimated to be between €1.89 billion and €2.1 billion, the total cost of roads and highways between €424,000 and €1.6 billion.
Uncertainty over accessing EU funds has led to attempts to secure financing from Chinese sources. The airport was one of the vast transportation and energy infrastructure projects discussed at the May 2017 Summit of the Belt and Road in China, where the President of China repeated assurances about new credit lines by China Development Bank and China Exim Bank, and one of the outcomes was signing of a contract between Polish and Chinese state railways on facilitating container transport. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral financial institution supporting construction of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, is reported to have expressed an interest in co-financing the Poland Central Airport project, if it is in line with the bank’s policy of promoting ‘interconnectivity’ between continents, which would mean that the airport would have to promote passenger traffic with Asia. Potential benefits to Chinese exporters from the airport are evident. The project would support the Polish government’s intention to establish the country as a port of entry for Chinese goods into the EU single market.
Industry experts doubt feasibility of the new airport
Some industry experts are critical of the new airport, doubtful that a new global hub could compete with established European hub airports such as Schiphol and Frankfurt and saying that it would struggle to meet its traffic projections and fail to make a profit. And adoption of Poland Central Airport as a government priority reverses many years of sloughing huge sums of public money into several new small regional airports. A major new hub airport would compete with these regional airports, many of which are already struggling with low passenger levels and unprofitable. Some industry experts warn that opening a new hub airport would be likely to lead to the closure of several existing Polish airports.
Expenditure on a new airport that results in closure of established regional airports would be an astonishing waste of public funds. Between 2007 and 2015 Poland sank at least US$1.58 billion into building and expanding 14 regional airports, with 40 per cent of this funding coming from the European Union (EU). This was highlighted in a report Flights of fancy: A case study on aviation and EU funds in Poland published in 2012 by CEE Bankwatch Network which critiqued the development and operation of small regional airports which were not financially viable, placing a strain on regional and local government budgets, along with allocation of EU funds for rail connections to airports, arguing it should be redirected to serving mobility needs within regions.
Aviation industry consultancy CAPA (Centre for Aviation) reports that Poland Central Airport would replace Warsaw Chopin Airport, the city’s main airport located south of the city with limited room for expansion. Bloomberg also reports that, under the government plan for the new airport, Warsaw Chopin Airport would eventually be shut down. Closing Warsaw Chopin Airport would be a woeful example of enormous waste of public funds and short-sighted planning. A major, multi-million Euro programme of upgrades to Warsaw Chopin Airport, increasing its capacity to 10.4 million passengers per annum, was completed less than a year ago, in December 2016. The terminal was modernized including installation of new check-in desks and an observation deck, a new long-range fuel pipeline constructed and the runways, taxiways and apron have been upgraded. The airport upgrade programme cost €166,760,000 with the EU Cohesion Fund contributing €32,900,000.
Rafal Milczarski, CEO of Poland’s state-owned carrier, LOT Polish Airlines, has said that Warsaw Chopin Airport should be closed down and the land sold to real estate developers to help finance the new airport. This would certainly benefit LOT, a leading proponent of the central airport. Indeed, supporting growth of the national airline is part of the rationale for the project. But the role of LOT in the new airport is a factor in skepticism regarding its viability. LOT is a relatively small carrier with fewer than ten wide-bodied aircraft. A high level of investment would be required for LOT to become one of Central Europe’s main carriers, one of the goals of the the airport project. Critics are of the opinion that the LOT lacks the scale and financial capacity necessary for commercial viability of the new airport project. LOT Polish Airlines also has a history of government intervention to support ailing finances. The carrier was a direct beneficiary of state funds in 2012-2014 when it was rescued from bankruptcy with a €200 million state bailout.
There are serious doubts over the viability of the Poland Central Airport project. The only certainties are vast public expenditure on infrastructure and loss of a large area of farmland.
This means the villages have effectively bought time for a land and environmental impact assessment. Existing evaluations came under heavy criticism from many, including the some 15 environmental groups who joined the villagers’ action.
Residents of five villages threatened with the loss of their homes for a second airport on Jeju island have set up a protest camp and their resistance is garnering support from many organizations.
Plans for a second airport in Jeju, an egg-shaped island off the south coast of South Korea, have met with vigorous and sustained resistance since the sudden announcement of the project two years ago, in November 2015. The proposed site is in Seongsan on the east coast of the island and residents of the five villages that would be affected, losing their homes and farmland – Susan-ri, Sinsan-ri, Nansan-ri, Goseong-ri and Onpyeong-ri – were not even consulted. Resistance has intensified in recent weeks and on 10th October a group of residents and representatives of civic groups opposing the new airport assembled a protest tent outside the Jeju island government hall and began a sit-in. The vice-chair of Seongsan people’s committee against the 2nd Jeju airport project, Kim Kyung-bae, began an indefinite hunger strike and fellow protesters began relay fasting to show their support.
The Jeju Provincial Government threatened to remove the protest tent, delivering a warning letter to the organizations protesting Jeju’s second airport, which stated that, if the protest tent was not removed by 17th October the government would forcefully dismantle it and claiming that the protesters are “illegally occupying the roads and causing traffic problems”. Protesters countered that their protest tent is located far enough from the road to avoid causing inconvenience to vehicles or pedestrians, as can be seen in the photo below.
Airport opponents only resorted to this sit-in protest because the Jeju Provincial Government refuses to communicate with them and the resistance camp remains, demonstrating protesters’ determination to maintain a visible presence, make their voice heard, and prevent imposition of the project. The photo below was taken on 21st October, marking the 12th day of the anti-airport sit-in and hunger strike. At the time of writing the protest continues on its 14th day, as does the succession of visitors finding out about the campaign and showing their support.
Airport plans are being pushed forward without involving the people who would be most seriously affected, the villagers facing the threat of eviction from their homes and loss of agricultural livelihoods. The protest camp builds on a series of small victories, recent actions which have successfully stalled the airport project, blocking a land survey and environmental impact assessment. More recently, on 18th September 2017, demonstrators brought a briefing session on the 2nd Jeju airport to a halt. The briefing session was organized without consulting residents of Seongsan where the airport would be built and held far away in the city of Seogwipo, a distance of about 60 kilometers. More than 70 people, residents from the affected villages and representatives of civic groups, staged a protest, challenging the procedural legitimacy of the briefing session, criticizing it as merely a tool for advertising the project and demanding a complete reassessment of the airport plans. The video below shows protesters gathering outside the meeting with a display of banners, then attempting to take the stage to make their voices heard, only to be blocked by a large number of officials.
Two years of resistance against a second Jeju airport
Over the two years since the second airport plan was announced there has been a series protests and rallies, with the participation of hundreds of people. Most of the site earmarked for the proposed airport, about 70 per cent, is a farming area so the project threatens agricultural livelihoods and food production. If the airport is built over 75 per cent of villagers of Seongsan would lose their homes and other villages would also be severely impacted. Anti-airport actions have drawn on shamanic traditions, channelling a multitude of spiritual energies such as the three founding fathers of the island and Youngdeung, the goddess of the wind and sea. Two years of resistance have seen houses sporting posters in their windows and streets bedecked with red and yellow flags and banners extending as far as 20 kilometers along the roads leading to affected villages.
Scores of villagers face being forced to leave their homes and farmland, sustaining their battle against the airport as they persevere with the cycles of rural life. In February 2017, as villagers were busy harvesting radish crops, Kang Wan-bo, chair of the Seongsanup Second Airport Opposition Committee, said that the government had failed to make any concessions regarding affected villagers’ objections and was attempting to force the airport plan through, even though Jeju’s 15 environmental NGO’s had joined forces to oppose it. When Governor of Jeju Province, Won Hee-ryong, made his first visit to the area for a year, villagers told him they felt as if they were being sacrificed for the tourism industry. Kang argued that continuing to expand the tourism on the island would be “ridiculous”, that citizens’ rights and protection of the environment should take priority over pursuit of an increase in tourist dollars.
A poll purported to show that a majority of respondents, 63.7 per cent, agree with the second airport plan. But the poll result was skewed because it only offered the two options of agreeing or disagreeing with building the second Jeju airport. Organizations protesting the new airport said that, in order to get a result that is more representative of people’s opinions, a range of options should be considered: building a second Jeju airport, expanding the capacity of the island’s existing main airport or reusing Jeongseok Airport, a facility near Hallasan National Park that is mainly used by private jets. Results of a poll conducted by organizations opposing the second airport showed just 24.4 per cent of respondents agreeing to the second airport. A higher proportion of respondents, 36.6 per cent, supported expansion of Jeju Airport and 20.8 per cent supported reusing Jeongseok Airport.
Plans for tourism megaprojects and an ‘Air City’
Airport planners and proponents envisage a second airport bringing an enormous influx of tourists to Jeju. But it would jeopardize the pristine natural environment that makes the island such an attractive tourism destination. Honinji Pond, a sacred historical area where farming on the island is thought to have originated, is near the proposed site. In addition the tranquility of a most unusual geological feature, UNESCO protected Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called ‘Sunrise Peak’, a visually striking volcanic cone 182 metres high with a green crater rising from the sea, would be ruined if aircraft flew nearby. A second airport would also support a suite of mass tourism megaprojects. Mainstream commercial tourist traps are in the pipeline, such as retail complexes, casinos and golf courses, along with theme parks and resorts commodifying Jeju’s distinctive ecological assets and unique heritage.
Plans for a second airport are also of megaproject proportions. Jeju Governor, Won Hee-ryong, stated that the new airport would be the largest project in the history of the island, costing US$3.5 billion and scheduled to be complete by 2025. Planners envisage a single runway facility with capacity for 25 million passengers per year, equivalent to current traffic levels at Jeju’s existing airport but the airport could be expanded with the addition of a second runway.
The airport would be the beginning of and focal point for an even larger development; an ‘Air City’, another term for an aerotropolis, is planned around the airport, comprising shopping malls, convention facilities and financial centres. Anti-airport campaign leaders have voiced concerns that ecological destruction caused by the airport is set to be compounded by urban sprawl from the accompanying aerotropolis. Another tourism-oriented megaproject plan connected with the ‘Air City’ scheme, for a high speed network of rail and bus routes linking the island’s main established and upcoming tourism centres – with the second airport among the key nodes – has raised concerns regarding the environmental impacts of construction activities.
Solidarity with the Jeju peace movement
Anti-airport campaigners are also concerned that a second airport might be linked with militarization of the island. Many airport serve both civilian and military functions, and in March 2017 former Air Force Chief of Staff Jeong Gyeong-du, said the second airport should have a search and rescue facility (SAR), perceived by some commentators as code for an Air Force base. Military intentions were confirmed in when Air Force Director of Public Affairs, Lee Sang-gyu stated that a feasibility study into constructing an air base would commence in 2018. In 2012 a scheme for an air base near the southwestern tip of the island, using an airfield in Daejeong-eup, was abandoned after a public outcry and the proposal for an air base at the second airport met with equally fierce protest. The Ministry of Transport Plans hastily contradicted the statements made by senior military officials, denying plans for an Air Force base.
In spite of these denials and an apparent U-turn many people are still suspicious that a second Jeju airport would be used as an Air Force Base. These concerns have galvanized support for the airport opposition from peace campaigners active in the long-standing resistance campaign against Gangjeong Naval Base – Save Jeju Now. Gangjeong campaigners joined Seongsan residents at the briefing session protest on 18th September, and have made regular solidarity visits to support the current protest camp. Links have been forged between movements opposing overdevelopment and militarization and are becoming stronger.
Construction of the enormous naval base in the tiny fishing village of Gangjeong on the southern coast of the island, with capacity for 24 warships, met with a sustained non-violent struggle. A decade of campaigning and direct action, blocking bulldozers and delivery of equipment, at the site entrance and taking to the sea in kayaks, repeatedly stalled construction. Gangjeong Naval Base was approved against the will of the 94 per cent of the village population who voted against it in a referendum. Jeju has a deep rooted culture of peace activism, it is known as the ‘island of peace’, and the naval base goes against this by militarizing the area and strengthening the country’s alliance with US defence interests. Construction of the naval base also caused environmental damage. Unique and delicate marine ecosystems were destroyed with serious impacts on marine food sources such as abalone (sea snails) and fishing livelihoods.
Since the naval base became operational, with the first US Navy vessel docking at the facility in March 2017, resistance continues with peace campaigners maintaining a lively presence outside the entrance gates. Gangjeong Naval Base is also linked with expansion of mass tourism; as a joint military and civilian port it is anticipated to begin docking giant 150,000 tonne cruise ships in the near future. The second Jeju airport project is over ten times larger than the naval base and the budget four times higher. But hopefully the scale of the project can be outdone by the strength of the opposition it has triggered. Hopefully the determination of the Seongsan residents who do not want to leave the homes, combined with the convergence of many individuals and organizations expressing support for their struggle, will lead to the cancellation of the airport project.
An 80 square kilometre aerotropolis is planned in Nijgadh, Nepal. The projects entails displacement of 7,380 people and felling of 2.4 million trees.
A major aerotropolis is planned in Nijgadh, in the Bara District in southeastern Nepal, 175 kilometers south of Kathmandu. If the megaproject proceeds as planned as many as 2.4 million trees will be felled, and 7,380 people living in the Tangiya Basti settlement within the site will be displaced. The government has repeatedly stated that Nijgadh Airport with a 80 square kilometer site, will be the largest, by area, in South Asia. An airport city adjoining the airport is planned. The map below shows the proposed Nijgadh Airport boundary as reported in the Nepal Gazette on 5th June 2015. The site is between two braided rivers, Pashah to the west and Bakiya to the east. The northern boundary is the Mahendra Highway between the two rivers. Most of the site, about 90 per cent, is densely forested land, predominantly consisting of Shorea robusta trees, which are also known as Sal or Sakhua. The settlement in the middle of the airport site, where about 7,380 residents living in 1,476 households face eviction, is called Tangiya Basti.
A series of government announcements underlined determination to pursue the project. In June 2014 the government emphasized determination to attract investors, reportedly ‘preparing to complete the pre-construction works to spare the investors all the hassles whether the government, private sector or foreign investors invest on the project’ as preparations were being made to fence off the land. January 2016 saw another high level push to commence construction of Nijgadh airport. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) was instructed to begin land acquisition, site clearance and resettlement of affected people and the Ministry of Soil Conservation was directed to fell trees and clear the site for the construction of primary and access roads to the airport site within two months.
It appears that a confirmed investor in the airport has proved elusive. Public funds will be used to develop the project. On 24th May 2016 the government allocated US$46.4 million for the construction of Nijgadh Airport, for land acquisition, resettlement of displaced people, environmental impact assessment and preparation of a detailed project report. The Tourism Minister said the project would be developed in phases, beginning with a single runway facility with capacity for 20 million passengers annually, with the accompanying airport city to be constructed at a later stage. In January 2017 the government assigned preparatory work on Nijgadh Airport to the Nepal Army, tasking it with building a perimeter road and an access road to the area earmarked for the runway, and clearing trees to make way for construction.
600,000 trees could be felled to fund Nijgadh Airport construction
By May 2017 forest earmarked for Nijgadh Airport remained unfelled, but vast numbers of trees could be transformed from an obstacle to airport construction into a source of funding for it. A news article entitled ‘Money grows on trees for Nijgadh airport project‘ reported a statement by officials that a vast swathe of the forest, about 600,000 trees, will be felled for the airport. The market value of the lumber was estimated at nearly US$581 million, which would be sufficient to pay for half of the US$1.172 billion construction costs for the first phase of the airport. The Forest Ministry permitted the Tourism Ministry to conduct an EIA (environmental impact assessment) on the condition that 25 trees are planted for every tree that is cut down.
Tourism Ministry officials pointed out that tree planting on this scale this would be difficult to implement, as felling 600,000 trees would require the planting of more than 15 million saplings. The suggestion that 15 million trees could be planted is more than merely ‘difficult’; it is completely unfeasible. Any such mega tree plantation could not replace the rich biodiversity of an long-established forest ecosystem and an enormous land area would be required, inevitably entailing the wholesale obliteration of an existing ecosystem in order to plant such a huge number of trees.
2.4 million trees could be felled for 80 square kilometre aerotropolis
Subsequent announcements in July and August 2017 threaten the felling of even more trees for Nijgadh Airport, over 2.4 million, to make way for the full 80 square kilometer aerotropolis. The first phase of the airport will spread over between 1,000 and 2,000 hectares, and CAAN has assigned the Nepal Army to clear trees at the airport construction site and to build access and perimeter roads. The government has allocated US$14.6 million for the project this fiscal year with CAAN setting aside an additional US$29.2 million to pay for initial works, if required.
A short video of the forest at risk of being destroyed for Nijgadh airport was posted on Twitter, by Milan Dhungana, who commented: “It’s very hard to believe that this beautiful dense forest is soon to be vanished to give way to a new airport.”
Residents of Tangiya Basti, 7,380 people living in the settlement in the midst of the forest land earmarked for Nijgadh aerotropolis, face displacement. In June 2014 MoCTCA was attempting to settle disputes over compensation for land acquisition and people’s demands for resettlement arrangements. By March 2016 the task of collecting land details had been completed, with land valuation about to commence, along with issuing public notices for land acquisition. Land had been categorized as under individual ownership, public land and ‘unidentified ownership’, the majority belonging in the latter category. A video shows the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) sign erected at the Nijgadh Airport site.
A 35-day notice was published for landowners to apply for compensation in March 2017. The amount of compensation for land acquired for the airport had been confirmed and the notice required landowners to harvest their crops within a month, prohibiting them from cutting any trees or plants. But compensation is only available to a minority of residents who have recognized land ownership. A September 2016 project report by Tourism Secretary Prem Kumar Rai stated that 110 households were eligible for compensation, with between 80 and 85 of these households agreeing to the compensation and the remainder reluctant to accept the government’s offer. The majority of residents facing eviction, about 1,400 households, have been categorized as ‘squatters’. Chief of the airport project, Hari Adhikari, said that nothing had been done to resettle the ‘squatters’ living on the construction site. In July 2017 the Himalayan News Service reported that the government’s preparations to acquire land for Nijgadh Airport had left residents of the Tangiya settlement, about 7,380 people, fearing their displacement and in a state of panic over their resettlement.
Tangiya Basti residents are struggling for new homes and livelihood opportunities. The Tangiyabasti Stakeholders Committee stated that construction of the airport had made their future uncertain and held a press conference where they demanded rehabilitation. Residents facing eviction are insisting upon replacement land and food supplies, provision of water, electricity and education in the place where they will be relocated, and one job for each of the affected families. Chair of the Tangiyabasti Stakeholders Committee, Ramesh Kumar Sapotka, said that they would refuse to vacate the area unless their demands were addressed.
Tangiya Basti residents have been living in limbo for years, knowing they face eviction for the long delayed airport, which was proposed 20 years ago. The settlement was established by the government for flood victims in 1975 and the majority of people living there are from the marginalized Tamang ethnic group. For more than 40 years the government has failed to fund essential services for their established settlement, or to support their own efforts to develop these services. Tangiya Basti residents lack electricity, a reliable drinking water supply, electricity and roads. Construction of schools has been cancelled leaving pupils with a dangerous seven kilometer walk through dense forest to get to classes, with the risk of being trampled on by wild elephants that roam freely in the area. Many locals have to go to a neighboring town to make telephone calls and walk for several hours to reach healthcare facilities.
Fast-track to destruction
A 76 kilometer road, a ‘fast-track highway’, linking Nijgadh Airport with Kathmandu, has been on the drawing board since 1996. Reducing the travel time to the capital city to one-hour, is considered essential for the feasibility of the airport, but the road megaproject has also been plagued with delays. A Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the ‘fast-track’, a four-lane mega-highway, crossed by seven bridges and expanding to six lanes, was completed in August 2015.
Preparatory work for construction of the road was fraught with technical problems. The Nepal Army began excavation works without regard to the specifications for a four-lane expressway and the challenges of construction works on steeply sloping terrain, which could cause landslides. After years of delays the foundation stone for the expressway was laid on 28th May 2017, and the project handed over to the Nepal Army which will oversee construction. In the interim the road has fallen prey to the cost escalation common to megaprojects around the world. Over a seven year period the estimated construction cost of the expressway has doubled to over US$1 billion.
Megaproject mania, misplaced priorities
The Nepal government’s relentless pursuit of Nijgadh Airport and the fast-track continues in the face of criticism that the projects are draining funds from other regions of the country. Meanwhile, other megaprojects languish incomplete and have fallen far behind schedule, such as a 28 kilometer tunnel to bring water from Melamchi to Kathmandu and transmission lines. Massive deforestation looms to clear the designated site for the airport even though funding for construction has not been secured. Successive administrations have put forward different plans for financing Nijgadh Airport. As late as August 2017 no decision has been made on funding. Two financial models have been put forward. BOOT public-private partnership (PPP) would involve foreign investment or private financing. Alternatively, the government would develop the project under the engineering, procurement, construction and finance (EPCF) model.
Megaproject mania, in particular massive government expenditure on a gigantic airport, multilane highway and aerotropolis, is a serious case of misplaced priorities in one of the world’s poorest countries. Nepal is still reeling from a devastating earthquake on 25th April 2015 which killed nearly 9,000 people and destroyed over 700,000 homes. Political infighting has delayed reconstruction and, in spite of billions of dollars pledged in aid, outside of Kathmandu the majority of affected families are still living in desperate conditions, in tents or makeshift shelters, enduring harsh winter weather and heavy monsoons. In these circumstances, spending vast amounts of public money on a mega-airport that would displace over 7,000 people is nonsensical.