Land grab looms in hurricane-wrecked Barbuda, and what is taking shape is not just an airport

Construction of an airport on the island of Barbuda began without residents’ approval. A larger land grab looms; moves are afoot to revoke residents’ collective tenure and allocate land to private investors.

On the night of 6th September Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, an unprecedented Category 5, made landfall on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda. 185 miles-per-hour winds wreaked havoc. A two-year old child was killed, land was flooded and shorn of trees, homes were left without roofs and walls or completely flattened and the island’s road, energy and communications infrastructure were destroyed. An estimated 90 per cent of buildings were damaged. Two days later all of Barbuda’s 1,800 residents were forcibly evacuated, ferried to Antigua which only suffered minor damage.

Two and a half months after the catastrophic storm most Barbudan residents remained with relatives and friends or in impromptu shelters such as a cricket stadium in Antigua, or abroad. Only a small number of islanders were allowed to return, for a few hours at a time. Efforts to rebuild houses were piecemeal. People were patching up roofs using plywood and corrugated iron salvaged from the wreckage. Hardly anything had been done to re-establish essential services. Water and electricity supplies had not yet been restored; returned residents relied on generators and desalinated water provided by humanitarian aid organizations. Schools and the hospital remained closed. But bulldozers had been working day and night for weeks, flattening land in preparation for construction of an international airport.

In a Channel 4 report Leslie Thomas QC said development of the airport is unlawful as it had not been approved by the Barbuda Council and consultation with the Barbudan people had not taken place. Work on the airport, which will have serious negative ecological impacts on the coral fringed island renowned for its seabird colonies, had commenced without the requisite Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Already, forest, wildlife habitats and land used for livestock grazing had been destroyed for the runway.

Bulldozing land in preparation for construction of the new airport is evidently so highly prioritized by the government that it began even before Barbuda’s existing small airport had been re-fenced and resumed operations. Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne dismissed residents’ legitimate concerns that the new airport is evidence of a land grab. His text message to Channel 4 in response to coverage of the issue directed a string of insults at citizens: “The deracinated Imbeciles, Ignorant elements, say that by building Barbudans an airport, we are stealing their land. 😂😂😂 These are what we call dunce elements.”

A land grab paving the way for privately-owned resorts

Prime Minister Gaston Browne is exploiting the chaotic after-effects of Hurricane Irma to attempt to erode Barbudans’ land rights. Within days of the disaster he proposed that Barbudans returning to their homes buy freehold title deeds to their land for $1, which could be used as collateral for bank loans to get mortgages to rebuild their homes, claiming that creating an “ownership class” would be “empowering”. Barbudans objected that this would force them to buy land they have owned collectively for nearly two centuries, since 1834, when Britain abolished slavery in its colonies.

Post-Irma disarray is being used to launch the latest in a series of attempts to undermine the 2007 Barbuda Land Act, which confirms that Barbudans share common title to the land and requires their consent for commercial development. The entire island is owned collectively and managed by an elected council. As co-owners citizens have rights to utilize the island’s resources, including for grazing animals, hunting and fishing. Individual citizens, whether resident on the island or not, have the right to a plot of land for a house, to farm and for commercial enterprise. Browne refuses to recognize Barbudan’s communal land rights. He refers to islanders as “squatters” in a New York Times mini-documentary showing how people’s difficulties in retaining shared land rights are compounded by relentless struggles to retain community cohesion and rebuild their own lives.

Barbuda resident and marine biologist John Mussington maintains that the line being put out, that Barbudans do not have the means to rebuild their homes, is a myth that is being perpetuated to justify a land grab. People managed to rebuild after a hurricane in 1995. Under the current land tenure system residents are not burdened with mortgages and high land prices, so they are able to channel their resources directly into rebuilding their homes. Furthermore, there have been generous donations from international aid agencies and there will be a substantial payout from an OECD insurance scheme that Barbuda is a member of.

Collective tenure is not a barrier to recovery

Liz Alden Wily, an independent land tenure specialist, maintains that if the government succeeds in forcing Barbudans to buy title deeds to their land this will result in many citizens losing their property. Without a sufficient and steady income – difficult for people to secure when their lives have been severely disrupted by the hurricane – people may not be able to secure loans or will not be able to afford the repayments, a plight that would force them into distress sale of their plots. She refutes Browne’s insistence that individual, private land ownership is a precondition of post-Irma recovery and the only way for Barbudans to secure bank loans for reconstructing their houses. Collective title is not a barrier to securing a mortgage. Another option would be for the government to follow successful examples of establishing forms of credit, such as a credit union, which would not place people’s homes, often their main or only asset, at risk.

The privatization agenda being pushed by Browne’s government will enable developers to acquire land, in particular lucrative beach-front parcels, at low prices. In marked contrast with many Caribbean islands, including Antigua, where tourism revolves around all-inclusive beach resorts and cruise ship ports, tourism on Barbuda is small-scale. The vast majority of the coastline remains undeveloped, the beaches remain unspoiled. Residents have approved some tourism projects, maintaining a high degree of community ownership and control. Weakening the Barbuda Land Act would enable land purchase by Antiguan and foreign interests, to establish privately owned resorts. Browne admits that the airport will open up Barbuda for investors and is pushing for a cruise ship port on the island as well as an airport, to support tourism growth.

Dispossession and disaster capitalism

A land grab is looming in Barbuda, and it is bigger than the new airport and citizens’ plots of land. Imposition of individual freehold title would result in Barbudans losing their rights to most of the island. Only a minority of the land is designated as housing, farming and commercial plots; the majority of the land is long established as a communal resource which is of particular importance to poorer islanders’ livelihoods. Removal of Barbudans’ rights to this land would convert it to easy pickings for investors. Furthermore, Barbudans without land would no longer have rights to acquire plots, and nor will islanders’ descendants. Alden Wily said “The government is asking Barbudans to surrender collective ownership of the whole island for just a few parcels of land in (the capital) Codrington”. Back in October she had warned that:

“Repeal of the Barbuda Land Act would free up most of the island for allocation to investors. Overall, it is difficult to see this move as other than a classical land grab by the stronger elite, and the end result of which could well turn the island principally into foreign-owned resorts.”

Kendra Beazer, featured in the New York Times film and a member of Barbuda Council and the Barbudan People’s Movement, slammed the government’s opportunistic moves to change land tenure laws, while its people are traumatized, scattered and scrambling to rebuild their lives, as an example of ‘disaster capitalism‘: the exploitation of citizens’ vulnerability in the wake of crises – including extreme weather, war and terrorist attacks – to consolidate state and corporate power in order to drive through neoliberal policies of privatization, austerity and deregulation. Naomi Klein explores the imposition of these so-called ‘free market’ policies over the course of four decades, in the aftermath of catastrophic events including Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism, published in 2007. She commented on the post-Irma construction of Barbuda airport on Twitter:

On 12th December, in a brazen attempt to subvert democracy, the first reading of the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act took place in parliament. The Bill, seeking to repeal and replace the Barbuda Land Act and dismantle the communal tenure system, did not appear on parliament’s agenda until moments before its introduction under an accelerated review process. Leslie Thomas said the act was tabled with no consultation whatsoever. Many Barbudans – returners to the island, the disapora, and their supporters – moved to resist the land grab enabling legislation. A petition against the Act has already garnered over 2,500 signatures and dozens of people joined a picket outside parliament.

An injunction seeking permission for a judicial review of the government’s attempt to expedite amendments to the Barbuda Land Act has been heard by the Antigua and Barbuda High Court of Justice, presented by Leslie Thomas. Broader resistance is gathering momentum with formation of the Barbuda Silent No More movement, working to strengthening Barbudans’ voices as they work to protect communal land rights, determine their own future and conserve Barbuda’s heritage, culture and environment.

But the airport land grab is progressing. John Mussington, who refused to leave the  island after Hurricane Irma struck because he suspected underhand motives for the evacuation, and filmed bulldozing of land for the new airport that was used in the Channel 4 report, now reports that a huge area of land is being cleared and parceled up. The government claims that the land clearance is for an airport, but it is clear that what is taking shape is not just an airport. Water and electricity services have still not been restored, schools and the hospital remain closed. He says the “attack on our land tenure system is unconscionable” and it is clear that “powers that be” want Barbudans out of the way with the intention of a creating a “private island” for the enrichment of real estate speculators.

Regulation to pave the way for a mega-resort

Erosion of Barbudan’s land rights, and imposition of major tourism developments, already looms with government support for a mega-resort called ‘Paradise Found‘. On the site of an abandoned hotel project, islanders had cautiously welcomed proposals for redevelopment, but became concerned when the government approved extension of the 251 acre footprint of the resort by granting a lease for an additional 140 acres. Funded by famous film actor Robert de Niro and Australian billionaire businessman and investor James Packer, the plan for the $250 million luxury beachfront resort features upmarket cottages each with a private pool and a yacht marina, along with an airport.

A referendum approved the Paradise Found project, but only by a narrow majority, and the Barbuda People’s Movement challenged the result as unlawful on the basis that non-Barbudans were permitted to vote. The government pushed through laws to facilitate the resort project. In 2015 the Antigua and Barbuda parliament passed the Paradise Found (Project) Act, the provisions of which specifically support development of the resort, exempting the De Niro-Packer project from time limits on development and granting a 198 year lease along with the right to freehold tenure should this become instantiated in law. The debate on the bill attracted 400 protesters; critics warned that it stripped away the rights of the elected Barbuda Council to consider and approve large-scale property deals on the island. The Paradise Found Act also doled out a cluster of tax breaks for the two business partners; on corporate income, dividends, stamp duty and property.

The future of the Paradise Found project is uncertain, protest and litigation have bogged it down. Barbudans may well succeed in fending off the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act which threatens to open the gate to a multitude of privately-owned resorts. The drive to revoke collective tenure goes against the grain of a positive global trend. Around the world thousands of communities have secured legal rights to shared land tenure, controlling, regulating and leasing commonly held property as they see fit. In 2018 a global declaration on the rights of the world’s rural communities, making collective ownership and governance a founding right, will be presented to the United Nations Assembly.

Advertisements

Second Jeju airport resistance intensifies – protest camp and hunger strike

Residents of five villages threatened with the loss of their homes for a second airport on Jeju island have set up a protest camp and their resistance is garnering support from many organizations.

Plans for a second airport in Jeju, an egg-shaped island off the south coast of South Korea, have met with vigorous and sustained resistance since the sudden announcement of the project two years ago, in November 2015. The proposed site is in Seongsan on the east coast of the island and residents of the five villages that would be affected, losing their homes and farmland – Susan-ri, Sinsan-ri, Nansan-ri, Goseong-ri and Onpyeong-ri – were not even consulted. Resistance has intensified in recent weeks and on 10th October a group of residents and representatives of civic groups opposing the new airport assembled a protest tent outside the Jeju island government hall and began a sit-in. The vice-chair of Seongsan people’s committee against the 2nd Jeju airport project, Kim Kyung-bae, began an indefinite hunger strike and fellow protesters began relay fasting to show their support.

 

10 OCT 2017
Campaign against 2nd airport press conference outside Jeju Provincial Office launching the protest camp on 10th October 2017. Photo: 연합뉴스

The Jeju Provincial Government threatened to remove the protest tent, delivering a warning letter to the organizations protesting Jeju’s second airport, which stated that, if the protest tent was not removed by 17th October the government would forcefully dismantle it and claiming that the protesters are “illegally occupying the roads and causing traffic problems”. Protesters countered that their protest tent is located far enough from the road to avoid causing inconvenience to vehicles or pedestrians, as can be seen in the photo below.

Airport opponents only resorted to this sit-in protest because the Jeju Provincial Government refuses to communicate with them and the resistance camp remains, demonstrating protesters’ determination to maintain a visible presence, make their voice heard, and prevent imposition of the project. The photo below was taken on 21st October, marking the 12th day of the anti-airport sit-in and hunger strike. At the time of writing the protest continues on its 14th day, as does the succession of visitors finding out about the campaign and showing their support.

Airport plans are being pushed forward without involving the people who would be most seriously affected, the villagers facing the threat of eviction from their homes and loss of agricultural livelihoods. The protest camp builds on a series of small victories, recent actions which have successfully stalled the airport project, blocking a land survey and environmental impact assessment. More recently, on 18th September 2017, demonstrators brought a briefing session on the 2nd Jeju airport to a halt. The briefing session was organized without consulting residents of Seongsan where the airport would be built and held far away in the city of Seogwipo, a distance of about 60 kilometers. More than 70 people, residents from the affected villages and representatives of civic groups, staged a protest, challenging the procedural legitimacy of the briefing session, criticizing it as merely a tool for advertising the project and demanding a complete reassessment of the airport plans. The video below shows protesters gathering outside the meeting with a display of banners, then attempting to take the stage to make their voices heard, only to be blocked by a large number of officials.

Two years of resistance against a second Jeju airport

Over the two years since the second airport plan was announced there has been  a series protests and rallies, with the participation of hundreds of people. Most of the site earmarked for the proposed airport, about 70 per cent, is a farming area so the project threatens agricultural livelihoods and food production. If the airport is built over 75 per cent of villagers of Seongsan would lose their homes and other villages would also be severely impacted. Anti-airport actions have drawn on shamanic traditions, channelling a multitude of spiritual energies such as the three founding fathers of the island and Youngdeung, the goddess of the wind and sea. Two years of resistance have seen houses sporting posters in their windows and streets bedecked with red and yellow flags and banners extending as far as 20 kilometers along the roads leading to affected villages.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scores of villagers face being forced to leave their homes and farmland, sustaining their battle against the airport as they persevere with the cycles of rural life. In February 2017, as villagers were busy harvesting radish crops, Kang Wan-bo, chair of the Seongsanup Second Airport Opposition Committee, said that the government had failed to make any concessions regarding affected villagers’ objections and was attempting to force the airport plan through, even though Jeju’s 15 environmental NGO’s had joined forces to oppose it. When Governor of Jeju Province, Won Hee-ryong, made his first visit to the area for a year, villagers told him they felt as if they were being sacrificed for the tourism industry. Kang argued that continuing to expand the tourism on the island would be “ridiculous”, that citizens’ rights and protection of the environment should take priority over pursuit of an increase in tourist dollars.

A poll purported to show that a majority of respondents, 63.7 per cent, agree with the second airport plan. But the poll result was skewed because it only offered the two options of agreeing or disagreeing with building the second Jeju airport. Organizations protesting the new airport said that, in order to get a result that is more representative of people’s opinions, a range of options should be considered: building a second Jeju airport, expanding the capacity of the island’s existing main airport or reusing Jeongseok Airport, a facility near Hallasan National Park that is mainly used by private jets. Results of a poll conducted by organizations opposing the second airport showed just 24.4 per cent of respondents agreeing to the second airport. A higher proportion of respondents, 36.6 per cent, supported expansion of Jeju Airport and 20.8 per cent supported reusing Jeongseok Airport.

Plans for tourism megaprojects and an ‘Air City’

Airport planners and proponents envisage a second airport bringing an enormous influx of tourists to Jeju. But it would jeopardize the pristine natural environment that makes the island such an attractive tourism destination. Honinji Pond, a sacred historical area where farming on the island is thought to have originated, is near the proposed site. In addition the tranquility of a most unusual geological feature, UNESCO protected Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called ‘Sunrise Peak’, a visually striking volcanic cone 182 metres high with a green crater rising from the sea, would be ruined if aircraft flew nearby. A second airport would also support a suite of mass tourism megaprojects. Mainstream commercial tourist traps are in the pipeline, such as retail complexes, casinos and golf courses, along with theme parks and resorts commodifying Jeju’s distinctive ecological assets and unique heritage.

Plans for a second airport are also of megaproject proportions. Jeju Governor, Won Hee-ryong, stated that the new airport would be the largest project in the history of the island, costing US$3.5 billion and scheduled to be complete by 2025. Planners envisage a single runway facility with capacity for 25 million passengers per year, equivalent to current traffic levels at Jeju’s existing airport but the airport could be expanded with the addition of a second runway.

The airport would be the beginning of and focal point for an even larger development; an ‘Air City’, another term for an aerotropolis, is planned around the airport, comprising shopping malls, convention facilities and financial centres. Anti-airport campaign leaders have voiced concerns that ecological destruction caused by the airport is set to be compounded by urban sprawl from the accompanying aerotropolis. Another tourism-oriented megaproject plan connected with the ‘Air City’ scheme, for a high speed network of rail and bus routes linking the island’s main established and upcoming tourism centres – with the second airport among the key nodes – has raised concerns regarding the environmental impacts of construction activities.

Solidarity with the Jeju peace movement

Anti-airport campaigners are also concerned that a second airport might be linked with militarization of the island. Many airport serve both civilian and military functions, and in March 2017 former Air Force Chief  of Staff Jeong Gyeong-du, said the second airport should have a search and rescue facility (SAR), perceived by some commentators as code for an Air Force base. Military intentions were confirmed in when Air Force Director of Public Affairs, Lee Sang-gyu stated that a feasibility study into constructing an air base would commence in 2018. In 2012 a scheme for an air base near the southwestern tip of the island, using an airfield in Daejeong-eup, was abandoned after a public outcry and the proposal for an air base at the second airport met with equally fierce protest. The Ministry of Transport Plans hastily contradicted the statements made by senior military officials, denying plans for an Air Force base.

In spite of these denials and an apparent U-turn many people are still suspicious that a second Jeju airport would be used as an Air Force Base. These concerns have galvanized support for the airport opposition from peace campaigners active in the long-standing resistance campaign against Gangjeong Naval Base – Save Jeju Now. Gangjeong campaigners joined Seongsan residents at the briefing session protest on 18th September, and have made regular solidarity visits to support the current protest camp. Links have been forged between movements opposing overdevelopment and militarization and are becoming stronger.

Construction of the enormous naval base in the tiny fishing village of Gangjeong on the southern coast of the island, with capacity for 24 warships, met with a sustained non-violent struggle. A decade of campaigning and direct action, blocking bulldozers and delivery of equipment, at the site entrance and taking to the sea in kayaks, repeatedly stalled construction. Gangjeong Naval Base was approved against the will of the 94 per cent of the village population who voted against it in a referendum. Jeju has a deep rooted culture of peace activism, it is known as the ‘island of peace’, and the naval base goes against this by militarizing the area and strengthening the country’s alliance with US defence interests. Construction of the naval base also caused environmental damage. Unique and delicate marine ecosystems were destroyed with serious impacts on marine food sources such as abalone (sea snails) and fishing livelihoods.

Since the naval base became operational, with the first US Navy vessel docking at the facility in March 2017, resistance continues with peace campaigners maintaining a lively presence outside the entrance gates. Gangjeong Naval Base is also linked with expansion of mass tourism; as a joint military and civilian port it is anticipated to begin docking giant 150,000 tonne cruise ships in the near future. The second Jeju airport project is over ten times larger than the naval base and the budget four times higher. But hopefully the scale of the project can be outdone by the strength of the opposition it has triggered. Hopefully the determination of the Seongsan residents who do not want to leave the homes, combined with the convergence of many individuals and organizations expressing support for their struggle, will lead to the cancellation of the airport project.

The campaign against the 2nd Jeju airport has a Facebook page.

On GAAM’s YouTube channel we are compiling a playlist – ‘Resisting 2nd Jeju airport’, with videos of the many protests and rallies.

International call for cases of evictions for tourism

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

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

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

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

Photo: International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE)

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

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

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

ITE

Airport Expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects

Indonesia cover mA new report Airport Expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects has been published by the Third World Network (TWN) in partnership with GAAM. Airport expansion in Indonesia is closely intertwined with a government drive for massive tourism growth, and the 64-page report looks at 58 airports, operational, under construction and still in the planning stage.

New airports, and expansion of existing airports, frequently entails displacement of communities and loss of farmland and the report documents land rights struggles relating to 25 airport projects. Planners often hone in on forested land as an alternative to the use of agricultural land for airport projects.

Aviation expansion in Indonesia is integrated with other megparojects such as multi-lane highways and sea ports, and linked to new Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These areas are designated for industrial and tourism development, provided with surface transportation networks and other supportive infrastructure and lavished with tax breaks and other incentives. Several SEZs have been bestowed with long stretches of coastline boasting white sand beaches, natural assets that are a cornerstone of tourism.

There are many plans for aerotropolis-style development, including around two airports currently under construction in Java – Kulon Progo and Kertajati – in the face of vigorous and long standing resistance from communities being forced to leave their homes and productive agricultural land. A number of aerotropolis plans are integrated with development of tourist resorts that aspire to become aviation dependent destinations in their own right. The report accompanies GAAM’s digital map which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images.

Since the report went to print plans for a new airport in the Seribu Islands (Thousand Islands) off the coast of Jakarta have been announced. This appears to be a scheme for tourism oriented aerotropolis style development as the Jakarta administration has stated that the winner of the tender will be permitted to build resorts near the airport, and will be provided with incentives.

For paper copies of the report, please contact:  Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: twn@twnetwork.org.

Tourism: Global civil society witnesses joint statement appeals for harm avoidance

A group of CSOs (civil society organizations) have taken action to help raise awareness of and influence the United Nations tourism agenda. The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017) to promote tourism’s role in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Civil society groups have long voiced concerns over tourism growth that, through its aviation dependency, is fossil fuel dependent, and is a key driver of land grabs displacing communities and destroying ecosystems. GAAM joined a number of CSOs in issuing a joint statement criticizing the current global tourism and development model. Entitled ‘Tourism, Urgent Appeal for Harm Avoidance’, the statement was issued on 22nd May, the International Day for Biodiversity which was marked this year on the theme of ‘sustainable tourism’. The statement was issued by: International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Investigation and Monitoring Team (Tim-Team), Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), Third World Network (TWN), Consumers Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), and Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF).

An article by Friends of the Earth International International Day for biological biodiversity: celebrate by protecting biodiversity, not promoting tourism critiques the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) for using the International Day for Biodiversity to promote tourism and mentioning the need to reduce its negative impacts, but failing to recognize that many so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ projects, fail host communities by denying them revenue generation and self-determination. In the worst cases indigenous peoples are evicted to make way for resorts. FOE calls for tourism policies that protect ecosystems and the rights of local communities, calling for celebration of International Biodiversity Day by challenging the dominant tourism business model.

Aviation is one of the most rapidly growing sources of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions and a press release from the Global Forest Coalition Aviation Emissions Under Scrutiny On Sustainable Tourism Day raises the issue of proposals to offset these emissions, which were discussed at last week’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany.  Instead of reducing its emissions the aviation industry seeks to offset them with monoculture tree plantations which are a threat to biodiversity and local communities. The plantations destroy natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.

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).

Challenging tourism growth: the role of aviation and impacts on biodiversity

Tourism was on the agenda at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. The draft Cancun Declaration recognizes that tourism, a major sector in the global economy, is dependent upon biodiverse ecosystems. A Third World Network (TWN) briefing paper, ‘Tourism at the tipping point: Governance for future generations’, prepared by Alison M. Johnston, Director of the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Canada, urges a precautionary approach to tourism growth, challenging the institutionalization of the industry as a ‘pre-approved enterprise’ which facilitates its expansion into remote areas, often damaging rather than conserving ecosystems and biodiversity. The paper highlights the role of aviation, the tourism industry’s dependence upon the petroleum industry, the impacts on indigenous peoples and considerations for future generations.

The paper was presented and discussed at a COP side-event entitled ‘Tourism and Biodiversity: Benefits and Hazards’ that was co-organized by the TWN, the Global Forest Coalition, the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism (ISCST) and the Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team). This input to the UN biodiversity conference, and other critical perspective on tourism, are particularly important in view of the United Nations designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, aiming to support ‘a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector’.