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Displaced for development

Internally displaced pastoralist with his children at a village in Wajir District, Kenya - Panos London

Internally displaced pastoralist with his children at a village in Wajir District, Kenya - Panos London

Every year millions of people are displaced by large-scale development projects such as roads, dams, and coalmines. Many never regain their former quality of life, and pay the price of social and cultural disruption as well as economic upheaval.

“How could we be asked to leave a land that was ours? Everyone was crying. It was not just the pain of leaving the village; it was the uncertainty of what lay ahead…”

– Gul Bibi, displaced by Pakistan’s Tarbela Dam in 1976

Panos’ resettlement project aimed to contribute to greater understanding of the resettlement process and its aftermath, by providing first-hand accounts from the resettled themselves- those with the most direct experience of forced relocation, yet with the least influence on policy. Their stories confirm that, in addition to economic hardship, one of the most far-reaching and damaging effects of forced relocation is being impoverished socially and culturally.

Planners and policymakers acknowledge that economic compensation alone is not enough for successful resettlement and that a greater understanding of its less visible impacts is needed. Social institutions, relationships of mutual support, traditional health and knowledge systems, local custom and governance- all are disrupted and changed by the resettlement process. Yet how do you recompense people for the loss of social networks and identity, community history, or for land with cultural or spiritual value?

These accounts – from India , Pakistan, Lesotho, Kenya, Zambia & Zimbabwe, and Botswana & Namibia – while full of loss, anger and disappointment, also reveal ideas for moving forward and hopes for the future. They reflect a desire by the displaced to tell others of their experiences and increase understanding of the myriad effects of resettlement.

The process

Oral testimony is well suited to exploring some of the more complex and longer term changes undergone by communities and individuals as they adapt to new environments. Between 1999 and 2004 Panos worked with partners in eight countries in Africa and Asia, gathering oral testimonies from the displaced.

Each project involved a training workshop for interviewers, followed by testimony collection in the field, transcription of the tape-recorded interviews in the language of interview and, later, translation into English as well. Interviewers were members of the displaced communities or fieldworkers working and living with the resettled.

A range of community and national activities have communicated the testimonies in local and national languages, including policy roundtable meetings, community debates and press conferences. Various publications based on the testimonies have been widely distributed, and some are available online.

The book: Bringing the collections together

In May 2012 a new phase of the project took place with the publication of Displaced: the Human Cost of Development and Resettlement by Palgrave Macmillan, in their Studies in Oral History series.  Written by Olivia Bennett, founder of the oral testimony programme of work at Panos, and based on the Panos archive of interviews, the book brings together for the first time the different country collections, allowing the reader to look at the whole range of circumstances and experiences.  Filled with extensive extracts from the interviews, it contains detailed background to each form of displacement, and analysis of the varied impacts of resettlement on individuals, families and communities.  Above all, it gives voice to those directly affected, and by adding a new dimension to the debate, highlights the complex social effects of displacement.

“Here, where I have built, is a place where I have lived well… It will remain as a rock on my heart when I think of the place that I am being removed from.”

– Maseipati, displaced by Lesotho’s Mohale dam in 1999

 

Displaced for development testimonies

India: Coalmining in Jharkhand

Jharkhand, in eastern India, is the country’s richest state in terms of mineral resources. Yet it is one of the poorest in terms of lack of governance, and involvement of local communities in development decisions. The newly established state (formerly part of Bihar) has a large share of India’s indigenous populations, many of whom have…

Pakistan: Tarbela dam

The Tarbela Dam in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province was constructed in 1976 and involved the resettlement of more than 80,000 people. Many were moved to a series of townships surrounding the Tarbela reservoir, some moved into higher valleys, while others were resettled in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. Our partner in Pakistan, the SUNGI…

Lesotho: Highlands water project

Lesotho’s billion-dollar Highlands Water Project involves the construction of a series of massive tunnels and dams to take water from the Senqu/Orange River to South Africa’s industrial heartland, Gauteng province. Lesotho receives annual royalties from the sale of its water, and some hydro-electric power. The first testimonies from a highland community due to be submerged…

Kenya: Displaced pastoralists

The Boran, Gabra and Orma pastoralist communities share a common ancestry, having gradually moved from southern Ethiopia to Kenya’s Eastern and Coast provinces. Over the last few decades, many of these pastoralists have experienced resettlement and a change of lifestyle. The causes are varied but irrigation schemes and other development projects, as well as conflict…

Zambia and Zimbabwe: Kariba dam

In the late 1950s, the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe were subject to forced removal on a massive scale, to make way for the construction of a huge hydro-electric dam across the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. The Kariba Dam was the largest man-made dam in the world at that time. It was a…

Botswana and Namibia: The San

One of the few remaining aboriginal peoples in the world today, the San are among the poorest of communities. Their ancestral lands are shrinking, taken over by cattle ranches, mining concessions and wildlife conservation areas, and their traditional way of life is restricted by laws. Most San now live in remote settlements, with poor access…

Testimonies

India: Coalmining in Jharkhand

Pakistan: Tarbela dam

Lesotho: Highlands water project

Kenya: Displaced pastoralists

Zambia and Zimbabwe: Kariba dam

Botswana and Namibia: The San