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Guinea: Government's failure to support residents displaced for Souapiti hydroelectric dam destroys livelihoods, Human Rights Watch says

“DAM DISPLACEMENT DESTROYS LIVELIHOODS IN GUINEA - 16,000 People Losing Land for China-Backed Souapiti Project”, 15 April 2020

The Guinean government’s failure to provide adequate land, compensation, and other forms of support to those displaced for the Souapiti hydroelectric dam has devastated the livelihoods and food security of thousands of people, Human Rights Watch said in a report... The dam is part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)…

The 63-page report, “‘We’re Leaving Everything Behind’: The Impact of Guinea’s Souapiti Dam on Displaced Communities,” documents how resettled communities, forced off their ancestral homes and farmlands, are struggling to feed their families, restore their livelihoods, and live with dignity.

The 450-megawatt dam… is displacing an estimated 16,000 people and flooding 253 square kilometers of land…

“While Guinea is in dire need of more reliable electricity, that shouldn’t be an excuse to trample the rights of people displaced by the Souapiti dam,” said Yasmin Dagne, Africa research fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Guinea’s government needs to ensure that displaced communities have access to the land and resources they need to rebuild their lives.”…

…The project is a public-private partnership between the Guinean government and China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE), a subsidiary of state-owned China Three Gorges Corporation, which is building the dam and will jointly own and operate it. State-owned Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank)… is financing the project through a US$1.175 billion loan to the Guinean government…

Souapiti’s reservoir is also flooding a vast area of agricultural land, including an estimated 42 square kilometers of crops and more than 550,000 fruit-bearing trees. Many displaced people are struggling to find adequate food for their families…

The Souapiti Agency does not provide displaced residents with replacement farmland but said it will assist them to farm more intensively on their remaining land and find new income sources, such as fishing. Those resettled, however, have so far received no such assistance…

The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it is “in the process of redoubling its efforts to invest in the restoration of livelihoods.”…

Residents from all the villages Human Rights Watch visited said that they had complained to the Souapiti Agency or local government officials about problems with the resettlement process, but that they had received no response or one that did not address their concerns. The Souapiti Agency told Human Rights Watch that it had “delayed” implementing a formal grievance policy, and only did so in September 2019, after more than fifty villages had been moved.

The flawed resettlement process for the Souapiti dam is also evidence of the need for Chinese companies, banks, and regulators to ensure that BRI projects and other Chinese overseas investments respect human rights. CWE, in an email to Human Rights Watch, said that the resettlement is the responsibility of the Guinean government, but that as a shareholder in Souapiti the company “participates in the reinstallation and plays a role of supervisor.” China Eximbank did not respond to a letter from Human Rights Watch…

“Chinese state companies and banks involved in the BRI can’t pass on responsibility for negative human rights impacts to national governments,” said Jim Wormington, Senior Africa Researcher for the Environment and Natural Resources. “They should work closely with national authorities to ensure that communities benefit from, and are not the victims of, large-scale infrastructure developments.”

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