Nijgadh aerotropolis – 2.4 million trees could be felled, and 7,380 people displaced

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.

Nepal - proposed boundary of Nijgadh Airport, an 80 square kilometre aerotropolis
Nijgadh Airport site boundary , as described in Nepal Gazette, 5th June 2015

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.”

Photos of the forest that is at risk of being felled were also posted on Twitter:

7,380 people face displacement

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.

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Taoyuan Aerotropolis – public hearings and land expropriation

This paper for the 2016 HDCA (Human Development and Capability Association) conference documents the public hearings for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis. The 4,771 hectare aerotropolis is the biggest megaproject planned by the Taiwan government, threatening to displace 46,000 people from their homes and farmland. It is part of wider picture of ‘Development-Induced Displacement’ – eviction, often forcible, for infrastructure projects. Following revision of the Land Acquisition Act in 2012, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is the first in Taiwan history to hold public hearings on land expropriation.

The paper argues that land expropriation must serve the community – evaluated on social, economic, cultural  and ecological aspects – and be fully compensated, and considers the potential for these public hearings to bring deliberative democracy to the land expropriation policy and ensure that people who are, actually or potentially, displaced genuinely own development rights in the process. With the interpretation of public interest still controlled by the state and its allies, the authors conclude that, in their current form, the public hearings cannot achieve these goals.

Veteran Narita Airport protest leader Kōji Kitahara dies, aged 95

Throw Out Your Books

Kōji Kitahara, the Narita Airport protest leader, has died, aged 95.

He passed away in the afternoon of August 9th in a hospital in Tomisato, Chiba. A farmer and landowner, Kitahara was the official head of the Sanrizuka-Shibayama United Opposition League Against the Construction of Narita Airport (also known as the Farmers League Against the [sic] Narita Airport, or more colloquially known in Japanese as Hantai Dōmei, or the Opposition League), which campaigns against the expansion of Japan’s premier airport.

After Issaku Tomura, who initially led the protest movement until his death in 1979, Kitahara was the most prominent figure in the Hantai Dōmei. Though increasingly frail in recent times, Kitahara’s fervour was boundless. I met Kitahara once and heard him at rallies on a few occasions. He remained a passionate public speaker despite his advancing age and he was still participating in rallies until last year.

koji kitahara-sanrizuka narita protest leader Kōji Kitahara at…

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International call for cases of evictions for tourism

The scale of forced evictions is shocking, threatening more than 70 million people worldwide. Eviction for tourism projects – including hotels, theme parks, resorts, cruise ship ports and airports – is a growing problem that is gaining recognition. Individuals and communities who are affected are invited to submit cases to an important international event which will make recommendations for effective actions and help build solidarity across the globe.

The International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE) has issued an International Call for Cases of Evictions due to Tourism. Any individual or community that has been evicted or is facing the threat of eviction for tourism development is invited to submit their case of eviction or displacement. The deadline for submissions is 15th July 2017. To submit a case of eviction please complete the online form. The selected cases will be examined at the sixth session of the ITE, which will specifically focus on cases of eviction and displacement for tourism development, to be held in Venice, Italy, from 28 to 30 September 2017.

The ITE is a peoples’ and opinion tribunal established in 2011 by the International Alliance of Inhabitants and civil society organizations to practically and interactively end forced evictions around the world, is calling on the international community to report cases of evictions and displacement in the context of tourism development. The ITE’s call for action reads:

“Is your home threatened with destruction because developers want to build a hotel? Do they want to clear your community, your neighbourhood, and your land for a resort, a golf course, a stadium, a port,  or an airport for tourism? Are you and your community threatened by the precariousness of rental contracts resulting from AirBnB? Tourism development is attacking your rights where you have chosen to live in peace and dignity!”

Photo: International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE)

At the ITE a jury consisting of representatives of civil society, international organizations and academics will select the cases and evaluate the claims in the light of  international legal instruments relating to enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights, with particular regard to the right to housing and land security. The ITE verdict will take the form of recommendations drafted by a jury of international experts, and will serve as a road map for the cases judged and as a reference point for building international solidarity. Recommendations will be made to stakeholders, including the United Nations, governments, the economic and institutional actors responsible for the evictions, and will be monitored on regular basis.

An article on the ITE website, Why the ITE Session on Tourism? Growing human rights violations caused by over-tourism, provides useful background information on the problems host communities have contend with due to the current trajectory of rapid tourism growth.  Globally, tourist numbers reached 1,235 billion in 2016 and the the number of forced evictions for this industry is growing. Entire communities are evicted for infrastructure to support mobility for tourism – ports, roads and airports. Indigenous communities are evicted from forests and coastal ecosystems under the pretext of environmental preservation or preventing natural disasters. Urban residents are displaced for gentrification schemes and escalation of rentals of private homes for tourism pushes up rental costs for residents. Authorities often view tourism as an engine of development and disregard human rights.

It is fitting that the ITE is to be held in Venice; this unique city has been dubbed the ‘global capital of resistance to tourism evictions‘. Massive tourism development has been the key factor in reducing the number of inhabitants from 175,000 in 1953 down to just 54,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, Venice is undergoing continued tourism pressure, with 9 million overnight tourists and 24 million commuter visitors in 2016. The fishing island of Pellestrina is a particularly striking example, where landlords no longer rent to residents but only to tourists. It is encouraging that, countering this negative trend, determined and vibrant civil society movement has emerged thoughout the city, organizing daily activities to support resistance against evictions for tourism projects. The ITE session will include visits to a number of islands and districts of “resistance Venice”.

ITE

Iconic Sanrizuka protest movement “solidarity hut” removed from Narita Airport

Throw Out Your Books

If you are lucky, as your plane touches down you may be able to catch a glimpse from your window of a large homemade sign declaring, in Japanese, “Against Narita Airport”. Omotenashi indeed.

The protest movement against Narita Airport is almost moribund for two obvious reasons: despite fierce opposition and mammoth delays and even fatalities, the airport was eventually finished and opened, and isn’t going anywhere; and the inevitable process of mortality is setting in and the original activists and farmers are slowly disappearing.

Instead, the remains of the protest movement, which is often referred to as the Sanrizuka movement after the area where many of the affected villages were located, continues on with a primary focus on stopping further expansion of the airport in the form of the long-anticipated third runway. Much of this manifests as petitions, various suits and trials, and regular rallies and marches. In particular, the…

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Sukamulya villagers resist eviction for Kertajati airport and aerotropolis

An article about resistance to eviction from their homes and productive agricultural land for a new airport in Java, Indonesia, has been published by The Ecologist online magazine: Indonesia: Villagers resist eviction for 50 sq.km ‘aeropolis’ / Airport city on their land. Ten villages, and a vast area of farmland, have already been wiped from the map for Kertajati Airport, which is currently under construction. But Sukamulya village remains. Residents have sustained their resistance to displacement for the airport for over 12 years, since the project was first mooted in 2004. The Front Perjuangan Rakyat Sukamulya (FPRS) was formed to resist eviction for the airport.

Sukamulya villagers have blocked officials from measuring land for Kertajati Airport on many occasions. Starting in August 2016 a series of attempts to measure the land were successful blocked by residents. But on 17th November 2016, when people had gathered yet again to protect their farmland, 2,000 police rushed onto the fields to disperse them and enforce the land measurement. Twelve protesters were injured and the barbaric eviction attempt has been widely condemned by Indonesian human rights organizations and NGOs. Land rights and agrarian reform NGO Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA) highlighted resistance against Kertajati Airport as one of Indonesia’s key land rights struggles.

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A video by AGRA Indonesia Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement/Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria shows the firing of teargas at Sukamulya residents attempting to defend their land and resist eviction.

If development of the project goes ahead as planned Kertajati Airport will be the starting point for an even larger development, an aerotropolis. An Aerocity adjoining the airport site is planned. In total, 50 square kilometres of land, predominantly productive farmland, has been earmarked for Kertajati aerotropolis: 1,800 hectares for the airport and 3,200 hectares for the Aerocity.

“The project of the NAICM will lead to water shortage” Vandana Shiva in Atenco

dorset chiapas solidarity

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“The project of the NAICM will lead to water shortage” Vandana Shiva in Atenco

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Desinformémonos

Mexico City. 14 August 2016. “At some point it will lead to a water shortage” said Vandana Shiva and Sebastiao Pinheiro during their visit to Atenco yesterday.   With members of the Peoples Front in Defence of Land (FPDT) they toured the lands of Atenco that the government intends to dispossess in order to be part of the new airport in Mexico City (NAICM).  They arrived early in the camp that is located in the area where they intend to build one of the access roads.

Vandana, winner of the alternative Nobel prize for the environment, asked Mexicans not to allow life to be exterminated and to come to support the movement of the FPDT and all those who oppose the construction of the airport in these lands.

Meanwhile, members of the FPDT told the environmentalists that in these lands they grow crops of pumpkins, olives, corn…

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