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30 Apr 2019

The Diplomat

China: Voices of people directly affected by Belt and Road projects should be heard

“The Missing Voices at China’s Belt and Road Summit”, 25 April, 2019

… missing from the [Belt and Road Initiative] summit will be the purported beneficiaries themselves: the communities and people who will be directly impacted by these mega-projects… lessons need to be learned – and quickly – from the mistakes of Chinese investment projects already underway.

Take the communities in southern Vietnam’s Binh Thuan province... The lucrative coal-fired power plant [Vinh Tan-2 power station], completed in 2014, has resulted in a dramatic increase in pollution in the local area... The potential health and environmental impact on the community was laid bare in a Vietnamese state audit issued in March 2019, which exposed “great environmental risks” related to the discharge of ash, as well as illegally high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions, illegal discharge of waste water into the sea, and inadequate environmental supervision at the power plant.

The troubles at Vinh Tan and elsewhere… highlight the dangers of developing a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project without consulting the local community about it first. Critics of the two Santa Cruz Hydroelectric Dams in Argentina allege the project was carried out without consent from indigenous communities and without proper environmental impact assessments…

Foreign investment within and across regions can increase economic productivity and raise living standards. Done right, infrastructure has the potential to help states realize their human rights obligations by delivering, for example, better access to food, sanitation services, clean water, and employment opportunities. But highways, dams, and power plants also have the potential to tear communities apart and result in people being forcibly removed from their homes and land without adequate safeguards.

Part of ensuring that projects are sustainable comes from giving the communities that are most affected a say in how those projects are designed and implemented. This requires being transparent about plans and risk assessments and seeking meaningful input from a variety of stakeholders. It also means demonstrating to people that their concerns will be taken seriously, and that when issues are exposed they will be resolved fairly and effectively… those who are at risk of human rights violations must be given a platform to demand protection of their rights and mitigate potential harm and risks… [Also refers to China Development Bank]