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.

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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 mid-day.com 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.

 

Polish government plans mega-airport and aerotropolis

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.

Poland Central Airport
Map commissioned by PFR showing areas suitable for Poland Central Airport

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.

PolandAirport

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.

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.

Action alert – resisting construction of new airport in Mexico City

ACTION ALERT: A new appeal from residents and groups resisting construction of a new airport in Mexico City

AMBITION, CORRUPTION, FOOLISHNESS, IMPOSITION, PLUNDER, AGGRESSION, IRRESPONSIBLE DEBT AND COLLECTIVE IRREVERSIBLE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE, ARE THE CONSTANTS IN PRELIMINARY WORKS FOR THE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT OF THE NEW AIRPORT IN MEXICO CITY.

In order to start the construction of the New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) on the bed of the historic Texcoco Lake, several associated works have been developed, such as highways, railway, river canalization and land granting for industrial parks, housing units and shopping areas. Likewise, new roads are being opened in farmland ejidos and on the banks of the San Juan and Papalotla rivers, which has involved removal of a large number of mature trees to expand the already existing rural roads and allow the entry of thousands of trucks and trailers which introduce materials such as volcanic rock (tezontle), teyolote, tepetate and stone extracted from the destruction of hills throughout Mexico’s Valley, in an attempt to replace the lake natural soil, destroying its nature, its biodiversity and its regulatory function of temperature (Climate Change), rain water and runoff from the higher parts of the Valley; in addition to affecting the residents of nearby communities, stripping them of their property and demolishing their houses, causing a forced displacement of families, destroying their patrimony and putting at risk their food, housing and economic security.

In addition, sprinkler irrigation network systems are being installed on the ejidos, that reach the perimeter of works prior to the construction of the New Airport as the perimeter wall, pretending to be in support of farmers but which in reality aim to deprive communities of the irrigation water flow from wells to benefit developers of housing, industrial, hotel, commercial, etc., as well as impacting parceled grounds of the river side communities.

In a very few days, were have witnessed and documented the drastic landscape alteration in the area of Texcoco Lake by the works for the New Airport, mainly due to indiscriminate tree cutting, the introduction of pipelines, houses demolition, destruction of wells for agricultural irrigation, the canalization of rivers, the severe ecological damage caused by the construction of the highway Mexico-Tuxpan in the section Ecatepec – Pyramids–Peñon-Texcoco and the development of railroad tracks that is expected to accelerate the introduction of thousands of tons of stone materials from the devastation of the hills, which daily are transported and emptied to cover the fertile soil, vegetation, and the water patches of the lake, destroying life of endemic plants and animal species, the cultivation of healthy food and ancestral nutritional treasures such as Spirulina, the sanctuary of migratory birds, the remnants of the prehistoric remains considered by renowned archaeologists unique in the world and the tranquility and subsistence means of the native population today being attacked, intimidated and submitted through the use of public force and the PRI paramilitary group “antorcha campesina”.

For over 4 years, our non-partisan and anti-capitalist organizational effort, a member of the Indigenous National Congress-CNI, of the Global Action against Airport Projects and Aviation Expansion and the World Social Forum-FSM, has conducted forums, colloquiums, seminars, cultural festivals, itinerant work meetings, press conferences, radio interviews, videos and publications that contribute to the spreading of the problem and to sensitize the population on the infeasibility and illegality of this mega-project of death, as well as the real very high risk of hydric system collapse and the affectation level throughout the Valley and center region of the country, including Mexico city.

While in countries of the first world, their airports have only 2 runways and Austria celebrates the final cancellation decision of the Vienna airport third runway on the basis of the fight against climate change, the New Airport in Mexico is projected to have 6 runways, so that while some function others undergo maintenance, which explains the folly and interest to do so in the Texcoco Lake, for the benefit of companies linked to the large transnational conglomerates involved in the project and to political power groups.

We make an urgent appeal to all society sectors in Mexico, Latin America and the rest of the world, to massively pronounce in defense of life and heritage of Texcoco Lake and of the peoples and communities that depend on it; because as people we cannot agree on such a project that is due to decisions of the high corruption in Mexico, that could even point to shady dealings and that should not be built in any part of our country.
June 14, 2017.

PLEASE SUPPORT APPEAL

You can help us to stop the largest ecocide in Mexico and Latin America by sending letters, e-mails and twitters and/or making phone calls to responsible government instances, to demand the definitive cancellation of this mega-project of death.

Because the life and nature are above the interest of money and alleged jobs…
NO! TO THE UNNECESSARY, ECOCIDAL AND UNAFFORDABLE
NEW MEXICO CITY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Enrique Peña Nieto, President of México, Los Pinos, Parque Lira s/n, Col. Chapultepec 1ª sección, Deleg. Miguel Hidalgo, 11850 CdMx, 0052-55 5093-53-00, 01-800 080-11-27, enrique.penanieto@presidencia.gob.mx, @EPN y @PresidenciaMX

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Secretary of the Interior, Bucareli #99, Col. Juárez, 66000 CdMx, 0052-55 5728-74-00, 55 5728-73-00 Secretary ext. 32401 and Citizen Attention Module ext. 34397, secretario@segob.gob.mx, @osoriochong

Gerardo Ruíz Esparza, Communications and Transport Secretary, Xola and Universidad s/n, cuerpo C, floor 1, Col. Narvarte, Deleg. Benito Juárez, 03020 CdMx, 0052-55 5723-93-00, 01-800 888-10-13 Secretary exts. 10402, 10403, secretario@sct.gob.mx, buzon_ucg@sct.gob.mx, @gruizesp y @SCT_mx

Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, Environement and Natural Resources Secretary, Ejército Nacional #223, Floor 22, side B,  Col. Anáhuac, 11320 CdMx, Direct Secretary 0052-55 5628-06-02 to 05, Commutator 0052-55 5624-33-00 and 55 5490-09-00, Private Secretary exts. 10905 and 12076, c.secretario@semarnat.gob.mx, rafael.pacchiano@semarnat.gob.mx, fernanda.romo@semarnat.gob.mx, atencion.ciudadana@semarnat.gob.mx  @RafaelPacchiano

Roberto Ramírez de la Parra, National Water Commission Director -CONAGUA, Insurgentes Sur #2416, Copilco el Bajo, 04340 CdMx, 0052-55 5174-40-00 and 01-800 2662-482, http://www.gob.mx/conagua, @RobRmzdelaParra and @conagua_mx

Federico Patiño Márquez, México City Airport Group (Director del Grupo Aeroportuario de la Ciudad de México, S.A. de C.V.),  Floor 2-Oficina 203, Insurgentes Sur #2453, San Ángel, 01090 CdMx, mark from a cell pone to Commutator 0052 55 9001-40-00,  Managing Director 0052 55 9001-40-01, Citizen Attention Module 0052 55 9001-40-02, dirección.general@gacm.mx,  @FedericoPatiño_

Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa, México City Governor, Plaza de la Constitución #1, planta baja, Col. Centro, Deleg. Cuauhtémoc, CdMx, Citizen Attention Module 0052 55 5345-80-00 ext. 1263 and General Coordination of Citizen Attention ext. 1460, jefaturadegobierno@cdmx.gob.mx, @ManceraMiguelMX, @ManceraConecta y @GobCDMX

Eruviel Ávila Villegas, Mexico State Governor, Palace of the Executive Power, Lerdo Pte.#300, PB door 216, Toluca downtown, State of Mexico, 0052 72 2276-00-51, eruviel.avila@edomex.gob.mx, @eruviel_avila, @Gestion_Eruviel y @edomex

Andrés Ruíz Méndez (PRI-antorcha campesina), Atenco Municipal President, State of Mexico, 27 de septiembre St. s/n, cabecera municipal, 0052 595 95 3-65-06, atencopres.2016@gmail.com, @Andres_Atenco

Higinio Martínez Miranda (MORENA), Texcoco Municipal President, Nezahualcóyotl St. #22, Texcoco centro, State of Mexico, 0052 595 95 2-00-00 ext. 2006 y 2004, secretaria.particular@texcoco.gob.mx,  @higinio_mtz

Rosalba Pineda Ramírez, Chimalhuacan Municipal President (PRI-antorcha campesina) I. Zaragoza Square s/n, cabecera municipal, 0052 55 5852-57-71 and 0052 55 5852-57-72 ext. 104, http://chimalhuacan.gob.mx/gobierno_direccion?DR=2, @Rosalba_PinedaR

NON-PARTIES WIDE FRONT vs. THE NEW AIRPORT AND OTHER MEGA-PROJECTS IN MEXICO’S VALLEY ORIGINAL INHABITANTS AND NGO’s  EASTERN STATE OF MEXICO COORDINATION IN DEFENSE OF LAND, WATER AND CULTURE

Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México

Facebook – @CPOOEM_Edomex

Youtube: Coordinadora de Pueblos del Oriente Edomex

Photos by Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México:

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1) Current View of Lake Texcoco and migratory birds
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2) The advance of the devastation on the vegetation and the lake, in the background the Cerro de Chiconauhtla threatened in principle with cut it lower 40 meters in height by clogging the overflight of aircraft but could be blown up and pillaged in its entirety.
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3) Indiscriminate felling of trees by staff of the companies hired by the Grupo Aeroportuario, introduction of pipelines, transit of trucks and trailers.
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4) Machinery in the area of Texcoco Lake, implementation of a white powder (chemicals) to the fertile land.
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5) Recent View of Texcoco Lake, migratory birds and in the background the perimeter fence of the New Airport which is adjacent to the highway Peñón-Texcoco to which are intending to connect the expressway Mexico-Tuxpan highway in its tier Ecatepec-Piramides-Peñón-Texcoco by dividing communities, dispossession them and destroying everything in its path: arable land, agricultural irrigation wells, trees, animals, etc.

 

Mapping aviation expansion in Indonesia

Following extensive research GAAM has published a digital interactive map: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones, and aerotropolis projects. The map includes 60 airports – operational, under construction and still at the proposal stage, plus two airport projects which were cancelled. The issue of land rights in particular is highlighted, documenting disputes and resistance against displacement relating to 25 airport projects. Two airports currently under construction in Java, Kertajati and Kulon Progo, are of particular concern because of human rights violations, including police brutality, against people resisting eviction from their homes and productive agricultural land. Aerotropolis development is planned adjoining both of these airports.

Indonesia map graphic
Screengrab of GAAM Aviation Expansion in Indonesia digital map

The digital map represents only a fraction of airport projects in Indonesia, which already has 237 operational airports with a government expansion drive aiming for 62 new airports within 15 years, bringing the total number to 299. Yet it demonstrates the exciting potential of online mapping for organizing, analyzing and presenting information. GAAM hopes to collaborate with other organizations in the development of online maps to develop a more comprehensive picture of aviation expansion and the impacts on affected communities, making the most of this wonderful technology to support our research, awareness raising and campaigning. The map was designed and produced by InTouch GIS using the Storymap app.

A forthcoming report, Aviation expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones, and aerotropolis projects, contextualizes the information in GAAM’s online map, examining the central role of aviation expansion in a government drive for tourism growth and the integration of several airport projects with other infrastructure such as road networks and ports, economic zones and aerotropolis developments. The report will be published by GAAM in partnership with the Third World Network (TWN).

Sukamulya villagers resist acquisition of farmland for Kertajati Airport

Residents of Sukamulya village in the regency of Majalengka, a predominantly rural administrative area in the West Java province, Indonesia, are resisting eviction for Kertajati Airport. They are fighting for their land and water, blocking officials from entering the village to measure land in order to acquire it for the airport. The stand-off between officials and villagers refusing to be displaced, which began on 8th August, is the latest chapter in twelve years of resistance. A plan for a major airport, taking up a land area of approximately 50 square kilometres, first surfaced in 2004.

The Front Perjuangan Rakyat Sukamulya (FPRS), which translates as the Sukamulya People’s Struggle Front, was formed to resist eviction for the airport and the campaign is supported by Indonesian land rights and agrarian reform NGO Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA). As shown in a video by FPRS, hundreds of people are participating in the protests and women are playing a leading role. Sukamulya is bedecked with flags and banners. Road entrances to the village are being monitored day and night and blocked with tyres, preventing officials accessing land in order to measure it for the airport. A protest camp with a communal kitchen, using food harvested in Sukamulya and donated by villagers, helps maintain high spirits.

At the time of writing the blockade has been successful and the latest in several attempts at land measurement have been cancelled. Hundreds of residents blocked entry to the village, succeeded in holding back officials from the land agency, Badan Pertanahan Nasional (BPN) and police. On 1st September, hundreds of Sukamulya residents stated that they were ready to die in order to defend their land and demanded that the government treat them humanely. The action has garnered support from students and Majalengka farmers’ organization. Affected villagers are determined to avoid the fate of people whose land has been acquired for the airport; the level of compensation offered was insufficient for them to afford to buy land and build a house in nearby villages. But the government remains determined to impose the airport project. On 5th September, KPA reported that BPN was preparing to make another attempt to enter Sukamulya village to undertake land measurement, and that officials would be accompanied by a greater number of security officials.

12 years of resisting eviction for the airport

Over the twelve years since announcement of the Kertajati airport project there have been a great many protests. On 8th June 2007 hundreds of demonstrators rallied to protest against the threat of eviction facing at least 16,000 people from five villages. Speeches were followed by a mock trial of the Majalengka Regent, the head of the Regency. Demonstrators objected to lack of information about the airport project, including how much compensation they would receive from the government, and refused to be relocated.

Some residents have accepted compensation for their land and moved away, but the majority refuse to give land for the airport without fair land acquisition respecting their rights to accurate land measurement and appropriate compensation. Many reject the airport project entirely and are united in their refusal to give up their land for it. KPA maintains that the majority of the population of the 11 affected villages have opposed acquisition of their land and construction of the airport.

The FPRS video above documents a major protest on 25th January 2016. Hundreds of residents and their supporters rallied in front of the Majelengka land office and State Attorney office, arriving for the march in a procession of motorbikes and trucks carrying banners and posters. Rousing speeches voiced residents’ opposition to the construction of Kertajati Airport and the land acquisition process, protesting that it was not being conducted according to regulations. Villagers vowed that they would remain in Sukamulya. Hundreds of residents marched again on 22nd February 2016, demanding that delayed land compensation be paid to nearly 400 families and outraged that members of the community were being intimidated by officials. A video of the protest by the Majalengka police shows the presence of a large number of officials maintaining tight control of the demonstrators.

On 1st March 2016 the International Land Coalition (ILC) reported that conversion of the land for Kertajati Airport had resulted in the eviction of 10 villages. A tweet by ILC Asia showed a photograph of Iwan Nurdin, Secretary General of KPA, addressing a large group of evicted farmers from the affected villages.

On 2nd May 2016 hundreds of Sukamulya residents, supported by FPRS and KPA, rallied at the district government office demanding a fair land settlement. Speakers at the rally protested dishonesty in the land acquisition process including an inaccurate EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) which stated that crop yields are far lower than are actually harvested. Intimidation by officials had forced some residents to flee from their homes and some had been detained.

Sukamulya villagers and their supporters defending homes and farmland from land acquisition for Kertajati Airport have good reason to be concerned that intimidation and harassment by officials may escalate into violence. There have been many clashes between security officials and people protesting against the airport and blocking access to land. A serious incidence of state brutality occurred on 18th November 2014. Without warning, hundreds of officials, surveyors escorted by armed police, arrived to measure land in the villages of Sukamulya and Sukakerta. Hundreds of residents attempted to block officials from entering the village area. Police responded with violence, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Many citizens were injured from being trampled on and dragged away and some were beaten. At least five people were detained. A video shows a few minutes of the clash between authorities and villagers. Residents, distressed and angry, attempt to block officials from entering their village to conduct land measurement for the airport. Police and army officers herd people away from the village and confine them behind a fence. Many people are handled roughly by officials, pushed and shoved, and several are dragged along the road.

A mega-airport and an ‘Aerocity’

The developer of Kertajati Airport is PT. Bandarudara Internasional Jawa Barat (BIJB), referred to in English as West Java Airport and Aerocity Development Company. The planned airport land area, 1,800 hectares, far exceeds that which would be required should the airport meet its ambitious traffic projections of between 8 and 10 million passengers per year in the first phase of development, rising to 40 million passengers per year by 2035. It is larger land area than the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta in the US. In comparison, Atlanta Airport has a smaller 1,518 hectare site which includes a considerable amount of commercial development such as retail and warehouses. Yet Atlanta Aiport handles two and a half times the number of passengers planned for Kertajati Airport, just over 101 million in 2015. It is clear that land is being acquired for non-aviation purposes in addition to the area required for airport operations.

The proposed size of the airport creeps upwards. According to a BIJB video, by the beginning of August 2,500 metres of the planned 3,500 metre runway had been developed. But on 16th August the West Java province revealed plans to lengthen the runway even further, to 4,000 metres. The pale grey rectangle near the centre of the airport site is a completed section of the airport apron. The airport terminal is under construction adjoining the southern edge of the apron, and some of the farmland around it that is being destroyed, is shown in a tweet by BIJB:

Kertajti Airport is envisaged as the first phase of a larger ‘aerotropolis’ project, an airport surrounded by aviation dependent commercial and industrial development that is deigned to maximize use of air services. The full aerotropolis plan, with Kertajati Airport covering 1,800 hectares plus the proposed Kertajati Aerocity adjoining the airport site taking up 3,200 hectares, matches the 5,000 hectare project that was first mooted in 2004.

The Aerotropolis plan – a 50 sq km megaproject

A GAAM map shows the proposed boundary of Kertajati Aerotropolis that was indicated in a November 2015 presentation by a representative of BIJB entitled ‘KERTAJATI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT & AEROCITY: INTRODUCTION & OPPORTUNITIES‘ at the Indonesia-Australia Business Week 2015. This event, aiming to develop closer investment and bilateral trade ties, was Australia’s largest ever business delegation to visit Indonesia. GAAM’s map superimposes the project boundary indicated in this document onto a 10th August 2016 satellite image of the aerotropolis site.

Kertajati Aerotropolis map.png

The map shows the area earmarked for the aerotropolis consists of farmland divided into strips and squares, villages and wooded areas. The rectangular area is the proposed site for Kertajati Airport. Adjoining the airport area is the Aerocity area, its southern boundary following the path of a river. In the BIJB presentation the claimed area of the Aerocity is larger than the 3,200 hectares stated by the project and government bodies, at 3,480 hectares. It could be significant that the land area indicated by the map in the BIJB presentation is even larger than stated in the text: 2,665 hectares for Kertajati Airport and 3,583 hectares for Kertajati Aerocity.

The first runway can be seen along the northeastern edge of the airport site. A second runway, parallel to the first and near the other edge of the airport site, is planned. Satellite imagery shows that earthworks have already prepared an area of land adjacent to the first runway for construction. The southernmost point of this area corresponds with the access road shown in the BIJB presentation. The footprint of the airport, and obliteration of farmland, threatens to extend beyond the site boundary with construction of access roads to the north and south of the airport area. A major road already runs through the planned aerotropolis site; the Cikampek-Palimanan Toll Road, part of the 653 kilometre Trans-Java Toll Road, runs through the Aerocity area, inside the southern boundary.

The Aerocity plan described in the BIJB presentation consists of typical aerotropolis components. Space would be allocated for hotels, retail, conference and exhibition centres, entertainment complexes, business park, offices, industrial and warehousing area, logistics and distribution facilities, aviation ancillary industries including MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul – of aircraft) and in-flight catering, plus a facility for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. An ‘attractive incentives plan’, meaning subsidies for investors, is promised.

As a greenfield airport, and an aerotropolis, BIJB is not being constructed to serve established urban development, but to spur commercial and industrial development on the farmland surrounding the airport. Plans have been outlined for Kertajati Airport to become a ‘gateway’ to West Java; the airport and Aerocity would be an economic centre for the region, with direct access to the established Karawang industrial zone. Kertajati Airport is just one of 84 large scale infrastructure projects planned in West Java, including power plants, ports and roads, criticized by environmental forum WALHI West Java for the loss of farmland and triggering social conflict. Dianto Bachradi, Vice Chair of Komnas HAM (the Indonesian Commission for Human Rights), highlighted the private sector interests served by megaprojects. Specifically regarding airports he pointed out that employment opportunities for local people facing the loss of their livelihood from agriculture would be restricted to poor quality jobs such as baggage handler or parking attendant, and that the projects benefit large companies, not the local community.

As Sukamulya holds out against eviction recent announcements reveal more about the strategic significance of the aerotropolis to government and corporate interests. There is a military component as Indonesia’s state owned aerospace manufacturer,  PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), a firm servicing both civilian and military aircraft, intends to relocate from its current location in Bandung to a larger 300 hectare site on the land surrounding Kertajati Airport, anticipating that the new facility will be operational by 2019. And the aerotropolis scheme has spawned a plan for yet another megaproject; a power plant. This 190 hectare energy complex is planned for the aerotropolis to meet its own energy requirements, as the electricity supply currently under construction will only be sufficient to supply the airport, not the Aerocity.

Allocation of government funds for construction

Land acquisition, displacement of villagers, destruction of farmland, construction of the runway, taxiway and apron and earthworks to prepare land for construction of the terminal and access road have proceeded in the absence of confirmed financing to actually build the airport. Repeatedly, the government announced offers and interest from investors, from China, Korea and Turkey and from airport operator/developers including GMR Infrastructure (based in India) and Schiphol Group. In December 2015 President Director of BIJB, Virda Dimas Ekaputra, stated that no less than 40 domestic and foreign investors, from Switzerland, Turkey, Germany, Qatar and India, had expressed interest in development of ground infrastructure, such as the terminal.

As yet, foreign investment has failed to materialize, and there has been a series of announcements on financing of construction costs, all of which will fall on the government. On 18th January 2016 it was announced that construction of Kertajati Airport will cost about US$267.4 million, to be paid by central government through the transport ministry. Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced this financing decision during a visit to Majalengka. It was also stated that the West Java government is to pay for clearing 1,800 hectares of land. The government had withdrawn its search for an investment partner for development of the airport, redirecting potential investors to the proposed Aerocity adjoining it.

On 16th August it was announced that an as yet unspecified amount of provincial government allocated to the project had increased, the project having already spent most of the US$38 million in provincial finds already contributed. The most recent announcement of state financing is that the first phase of airport construction will be funded by mutual funds including the social security agency for labour. The financing scheme would be underwritten by state owned financial services firm Danareksa. Whilst this funding scheme would spare the government from spending the state budget on construction of Kertajati Airport the state would be liable for the debt incurred.

Farmland bulldozed and concreted over

BIJB videos show the progress of Kertajati Airport construction. A video dated 4th February 2016  begins with footage of the airport toll road, already a long ribbon of smooth tarmac. Next there is a shot of road grading for the access road. Bulldozers are shown in a puddled field of mud next to all that remains of a community that has been systematically erased, a tiny cluster of dwellings, and a single tree.


The camera pans away to show construction in the midst of a patchwork of green fields and bare earth where vegetation has been stripped away. At this stage, concrete has been laid for 2,500 metres of the runway. A bulldozer gouges at the earth, preparing a level surface for the airport apron, a gigantic rectangle of concrete. The tranquil soundtrack is at odds with what must be a roar of earth moving trucks, bulldozers and heavy machinery.

The BIJB video shows development  of the taxiway, with drainage channels running parallel. It is evident that the hydrological conditions of the airport site, low level land with a high water table, makes construction difficult. Adjacent to the apron, foundations for the terminal are being laid, and drainage channels dug into the flooded surface. Piles, long concrete posts, here called ‘pickets’, are being inserted deep into the ground. A total of 2,413 of these pickets are being driven down through weak layers of loose ground to reach rock or compacted soil that is strong enough to support the weight of the terminal building.

Water and food security concerns

A waterlogged site makes airport construction problematic, and drainage management will be challenging once the airport is operational, but airport operations require large volumes of water. There is a reservoir within the land that has been expropriated for the airport, the pale rectangular area near the southeastern corner. In June 2016, BIJB stated its intention to source its water requirements, initially about 30 litres per second but possibly rising to 60 litres per second, from within Majalengka.

Water may be plentiful in the area earmarked for Kertajati Aerotropolis, but it is a limited and precious resource. In Indonesia, the bigger picture is of water scarcity concerns, in particular on the densely populated island of Java. Diversion of water supplies from agriculture to industrialization impacts on irrigation of crops and therefore on food security. Kertajati Aerotropolis also poses a direct threat to food security due to loss of farmland to urban development. In May 2016 concerns were raised over food security implications of development on Majalengka farmland, in particular the prospect of the loss of 5,000 hectares for Kertajati Airport and Aerocity. Urban development on Majalengka wetlands could lead to a reduction in rice yields of 75,000 tonnes per year. Social and economic problems loom because of the loss of farmers’ livelihoods. In addition to rice many other crops are cultivated on the fertile Majalengka farmland, including beans, peppers, watermelons and mangoes.

A tweet posted on 19th July shows sheep grazing on green fields next to the terminal construction site, in the background is a skyline of piles and pile drivers pushing them into the soil. If Kertajati Aerotropolis progresses as planned this fertile farmland will soon be paved over.

Land conflict and Indonesia’s aviation expansion drive

Recent years have seen several airport-related land tensions and conflicts in Indonesia, in addition to the Kertajati case. About 300 kilometres to the southeast of the Kertajati Airport site, near the south coast of Central Java, Kulon Progo residents have struggled against loss of land and livelihood for a new Yogyakarta airport since 2011. Opposition to land clearance stalled construction of Kuala Namu Airport. It was expected to commence operations in 2009. In May 2013, as the airport prepared for opening, residents were still refusing the compensation on offer for eviction to make way for toll roads serving the airport. A week before the Kuala Namu opened, in July 2013, land disputes continued in five villages and more than 100 residents blockaded an arterial road.

A proposal for a second Bali airport, in the north of the island in the Buleleng Regency, was criticized due to pending displacement of agricultural communities and the sociocultural shock that would be inflicted on nearby villages, leading to an alternative plan for an offshore ‘floating’ airport. Yet the latest report on the new Bali airport plan still entails acquisition of populated land, stating that 656 hectares is required, predominantly residential land. The coastal villages of Pejarakan and Bumberkima would be affected and 3,335 people relocated, in order to offer wealthy tourists ‘panoramic views of white sandy beaches’. The elitist project aims to ‘cater to deep pocketed clients, servicing private jets’. Along with the airport investors intend to build aerotropolis-style development: hotels, restaurants and a yacht port.

In West Papua, dozens of families are refusing to be evicted for development of Manokwari Airport, and Sentani Airport finally agreed to pay compensation for acquisition of customary land in May 2016, after members of the four affected tribes blocked the taxiway with banana trees. In 2013 operations at Sorong Airport were disrupted by a rally demanding compensation for land.

Anti-airport movements in Indonesia are mindful of the long history of state brutality against people protesting confiscation of farmland for Lombok Airport. In the mid-1990s hundreds of families were evicted from 800 hectares of farmland for the airport. Oppression continued and in 23rd August 2005 a further 2,631 people were forcibly evicted for the airport. Then, on 18th September police, without provocation, fired into a crowd of 1,000 people who had gathered to commemorate Indonesia’s National Peasant’s Day and protest construction of Lombok Airport on fertile farmland. Thirty-three protesters were injured, 27 of them by gunshots, six from being beaten by police.

Kertajati aerotropolis is part of a wider Indonesian government drive for massive aviation growth. A target has been set to build 62 new airports over the next 15 years, in particular in isolated areas, which would bring the country’s total number of airports to 299. Inevitably, a number of these new airport projects will impact on rural communities and trigger resistance to displacement.