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Stories by IAP on Medium

Stories by IAP on Medium

Stemming the Tide: Community-led Plans and Solutions for Flood Control in the Philippines

April 11, 2017, 9:52 pm

By Ann Perreras

It was a Saturday in September 2009, when I was in my last year in college. The clouds looked dense and it had been raining since four o’clock that morning. I had never experienced such heavy rainfall before. By the time our professor dismissed our class, the ground floor of the building had already flooded. I had to climb on the roof of the pedicab to get to the nearest train station. The flood was already waist deep at that time. Looking out the window, you could already sense the devastating impacts of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana).

According to news reports, Typhoon Ondoy dumped 18 inches of rainfall over a 24–hour period. The raging waters and cars floating on the streets of Metro Manila and its nearby provinces, including Rizal where I lived, trapped people in their homes without access to electricity. I was finally able to reach home Monday morning, nearly two days later. This was my own personal experience of how flooding became a harsh way of life for millions of Filipinos. Through my work with the International Accountability Project (IAP), I saw more clearly the roles communities, NGOs, governments and development banks can play in improving lives.

Destructive typhoons such as Ondoy have increasingly hit the Philippines - causing floods, damage to property, displacement of people and fatalities. After 2009, the government began to conduct studies on flood risks in Metro Manila. In 2012, the government announced the completion of a “Flood Management Master Plan” that called for the development of eleven infrastructure projects around Laguna de Bay.

These projects included the Cavite — Laguna Expressway around the lake, the West Laguna Lake Shore Land Raising projects and the construction of spillways, a mega-dike, dredging works and improvements to urban drainage systems. The projects have received loans from the development finance institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Ever since Typhoon Ondoy, typhoons are becoming stronger and stronger each year. In the past 8 years, seven incredibly destructive typhoons hit the country, flooding homes and displacing people. These short intervals have left communities with no almost no time to recover. Despite the devastation of flooding and their desire for flood prevention efforts, communities have not been consistently informed or consulted about possible projects. People are equally concerned about the potential impacts of the government’s response to such calamities. Many vulnerable people will be evicted to make way for flood management projects, including informal settlers who already live in poor conditions.

Global Advocacy Team member, Jessica Amon, speaks at the launch of the report “Back to Development- A Call for What Development Could Be”

This was on my mind when I went home to the Philippines for three weeks in August. I had the opportunity to witness the launch of the report, Back to Development: A Call for What Development Could Be that was compiled by International Accountability Project’s Global Advocacy Team. The report is a product of community–led research in 8 countries namely Burma, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Egypt, Mongolia, Panama and the Philippines. The team created a research process and survey to document community expertise and recommendations for development. The report provides a guide for all of us involved in development, whether as part of a local community or as staff of a development bank, to understand how development can truly be community-led.

Jessica Amon, who organized the effort to look into the flood management plans affecting Biñan City, presented and spoke about the findings of the community-led research process. The findings from the report, presented below, show how expertise from impacted communities can improve the government’s flood management projects:

  1. Communities agree that flood control is a priority. Community members are in agreement with the government and international donors that flood control is a priority for development. However, the people that were surveyed strongly disagree with the process by which the government and development partners are proposing to address flood control measures. Specifically, they are opposed to the lack of consultation and opportunities for them to participate in designing the approach to flood control.
  2. The government has not consulted with the community neither did they inform them how will the flood management program will impact their lives. According to the report, the lack of consultation in Biñan City, for example, is not unique. Community members have reported that national and local governments rarely allow citizens to participate in development projects. 85% said that the government has never consulted them on development priorities for the country or region. With the exception of some government social welfare programs, people do not have an opportunity to provide inputs into government decisions.
  3. Despite lack of government consultation, local people are organizing to create alternative solutions to housing and flood control plans. Of all the people surveyed, 83% provided specific comments on how they would like to be consulted and how a meaningful consultation process should operate. Many people insisted that if they are resettled, it should be to a location nearby where they could access jobs, schools and basic services without having to travel long distances. Many others stressed the importance of having secure land tenure at their new homes.
  4. Several existing factors could lead to problems during the resettlement process. Lastly of those surveyed, 76% said that they do not have title to the land on which they are currently living. This creates a risk that they are treated as second — class citizens when they are resettled. 83% also said that they believe their source of livelihood will change in the future. Many expect to face the difficulties in finding new jobs, especially if they were relocated far outside the city.

The Philippines Flood Management Control projects can be in the public interest if they are built carefully with the input of communities most often affected. With support of IAP’s partner, Community Organizer Multiversity, some communities have produced comprehensive “People’s Plans for development for their communities.

People’s Plans collect citizen-generated proposals for flood control. It is based on the idea that solutions for resettlement, basic services, and other issues should always comes first from the people. The participatory nature of the process builds a strong sense of ownership among local people for the plan that emerges. I believe People’s plans can be a model that can be mainstreamed to discover permanent and inclusive solutions in the Philippines. What we need now is a clear understanding and commitment to communities’ roles in pursuing development and being part of governance.

Annabel Perreras was the 2016 Policy Coordinator/ Smitu Kothari Fellow at International Accountability Project (IAP). In 2017, Ann returned to Manila and works for the NGO Forum on the Asian Development Bank.

¿Un proyecto de gas natural en Panamá realmente beneficiará a las comunidades locales?

April 5, 2017, 7:32 pm

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

Ciudad de Colón, Noviembre 2016. Credito: Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

No había un solo semáforo. Los caminos estaban llenos de baches. Alambrados colgaban de todas las esquinas de las calles y edificios que una vez fueron encantadores y que hoy en ruinas, amenazaban la seguridad de sus residentes.

Un líder de la comunidad me estaba mostrando el centro de Colón. En medio de tal abandono y precario nivel de vida, me costaba creer que Colón -la segunda ciudad más grande de Panamá y ubicada en una de sus provincias más ricas- se parecía a la carismática ciudad de Nueva Orleans en Estados Unidos.

Colón durante los 1920s. Fuente: Wikipedia

Mis colegas de la organización Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD) me dicen que Colón ha sido en gran medida dejado por su cuenta durante décadas, a excepción de la Zona Libre, el mayor puerto libre de las Américas, donde productos de todo el mundo se pueden encontrar a precios asequibles. En la Zona Libre, las calles están bien pavimentadas, el tráfico está coordinado y la seguridad es una prioridad. Sin embargo, a menos que tengan un permiso especial, los residentes de Colón no están autorizados a comprar allí. Además de la Zona Libre, Colón alberga las terminales atlánticas del Canal de Panamá y el Ferrocarril de Panamá.

Desde el punto de vista de un forastero, es chocante encontrar tanta pobreza donde se han hecho tantas inversiones; donde la infraestructura comercial se mantiene meticulosamente, incluso mientras los habitantes de Colón viven en condiciones precarias. Lamentablemente, la inversión privada y la riqueza no se han traducido en beneficios reales para la población de Colón. En cambio, estas inversiones ponen de relieve una tendencia a priorizar los intereses privados a expensas de la ciudad y sus habitantes.

Una nueva inversión amenaza con repetir este patrón. El proyecto AES de Gas Natural Licuado de US $1.100 millones apoya la construcción, operación y mantenimiento de infraestructura energética para gas natural licuado que será transportado desde la costa de los Estados Unidos a Colón. La Corporación Financiera Internacional (CFI), ha comprometido US $ 150 millones a la AES Corporation, la empresa encargada de implementar el proyecto.

Primero me enteré de este proyecto a través de mi trabajo con el Sistema de Alerta Temprana, una iniciativa conjunta del International Accountability Project y el Centro de Derecho Ambiental Internacional que monitorea los proyectos de desarrollo dañinos a principios del ciclo del proyecto. Después de completar un análisis preliminar de los posibles impactos a los derechos humanos, quedó claro para mí que las comunidades corrían el riesgo de experimentar impactos negativos. Las inversiones en energía de este tamaño y naturaleza implican inherentemente riesgos ambientales relacionados con la calidad del aire, el agua y la biodiversidad en la zona del proyecto. Los documentos del proyecto señalan que la vida animal y el ambiente general de la región serán significativamente alterados.

Àrboles derribados en sector affectado por el proyecto. Credito: Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

De hecho, las comunidades en los alrededores ya están presenciando estos impactos, ya que los bosques cercanos a sus casas son arrasados para dar paso a las actividades de construcción. Los trabajadores y la población, en su conjunto, pueden sufrir riesgos de incendio y explosión como resultado del procesamiento, almacenamiento y transporte de gas natural. También se espera que los ecosistemas marinos y la vegetación circundante estén amenazados por las operaciones de la planta de energía propuesta. Por ejemplo, para que la planta funcione, el agua necesitará ser drenada del mar y luego descargada a altas temperaturas. Los documentos del proyecto no explican claramente mejoras tangibles en la calidad de vida de las comunidades, una característica que debería ser central en los proyectos financiados por los bancos de desarrollo.

Al perseguir un proyecto con riesgos tan amplios, lo mínimo que las empresas o los financiadores pueden hacer es involucrar a la población afectada en consultas significativas, escuchar sus preocupaciones e incorporar sus recomendaciones. De esta manera, pueden minimizar o posiblemente evitar impactos negativos y tratar de cumplir las prioridades locales, que deberían ser el fundamento de todos los proyectos de desarrollo.

Sin embargo, en un taller organizado por Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo y el International Accountability Project en noviembre de 2016, nos enteramos de que no se había consultado sobre el proyecto, a ningún residente con quien hablamos antes de que la CFI aprobara la financiación. Seis meses más tarde, todavía no se les había informado sobre los impactos completos. La falta de compromiso y el acceso limitado a los documentos del proyecto, significaron que muchos residentes aprendieron sobre el proyecto por primera vez durante el taller. A pesar de ello, la empresa ha señalado que celebró dos consultas públicas, una en noviembre de 2015 y la otra en marzo de 2016, nadie que conocí en Colón supo de estas consultas o realmente fue consultado. Por otra parte, la CFI no ha compartido ninguna documentación de apoyo que demuestre que se celebraron esas consultas o si hubo algún seguimiento sustantivo o resultados de esas consultas.

Taller realizado por ACD y IAP con miembros de la comunidad afectados por el proyecto

Es difícil subestimar la importancia de consultas significativas y transparentes. Muchos de los residentes que conocí habían sido reasentados previamente por otros proyectos de desarrollo, algunos sin compensación. Tenían mucho miedo de ser reasentados de nuevo como resultado de este proyecto. Actualmente se prepara un informe dirigido por la comunidad para registrar estas preocupaciones y documentar las deficiencias en la transparencia y las consultas organizadas por la empresa.

Cabe señalar que AES Corporation se enfrenta actualmente a preguntas sobre su conducta con respecto a las consultas para un proyecto separado en Panamá. Un caso contra el Estado de Panamá ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos acusa a AES Corporation de violar los derechos de consulta de los pueblos indígenas afectados por la construcción de la presa Chan 75 en Bocas del Toro.

Mi experiencia al analizar este proyecto e interactuar con las comunidades, sugiere que la CFI no ha dado suficiente prioridad al bienestar de los afectados. Sin consultas oportunas y transparentes, organizadas en torno a las prioridades locales, es difícil creer que el proyecto cubra en última instancia las necesidades de los que viven en Colón. Las comunidades temen que al igual que las inversiones anteriores, como la Zona de Libre Comercio, las empresas y los inversionistas se beneficiarán en gran medida, mientras que los afectados seguirán en condiciones inseguras, enfrentándose a una nueva amenaza por un proyecto que afecta su salud, el medio ambiente y los hogares.

Los residentes esperan que puedan evitar este camino preparando un informe que sea tomado en consideración por aquellos que financian el proyecto. Esperamos que esto sea una oportunidad para un diálogo sostenido y efectivo, donde las preocupaciones de las comunidades sean reconocidas y priorizadas en el diseño y la implementación del proyecto.

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio es el Coordinador de Politica y Programas para el International Accountability Project basado en Brazil.

Will a natural gas project in Panama actually benefit local communities?

April 5, 2017, 7:00 pm

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

City of Colón, November 2016. Credit: Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

There wasn’t a single traffic light. The roads were filled with potholes. Wires hung from every street corner and once-charming buildings, now in ruins, threatened the safety of its residents.

A community leader was showing me downtown Colón. In the midst of such neglect and precarious living standards, I found it hard to believe that Colón — Panama’s second largest city and located in one of its richest provinces — is said to resemble the charismatic city of New Orleans in the United States.

Colón in the 1920s. Source: Wikipedia

My colleagues from the organization Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD) tell me that Colón has largely been left to its own devices for decades, except for the Free Trade Zone, the largest free port in the Americas where products from all over the world can be found at affordable prices. In the Free Trade Zone, streets are well paved, traffic is coordinated and security is prioritized. However, unless they have a special permit, residents of Colón are not allowed to shop there. In addition to the Free Trade Zone, Colón is home to the Atlantic terminals of the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Railway.

From an outsider’s point of view, it is shocking to find so much poverty where so much investment has been made; where commercial infrastructure is meticulously maintained even as Colón residents live in precarious conditions. Unfortunately, private investments and richness have not translated to real benefits for the people of Colón. Instead, these investments highlight a tendency to prioritize private interests at the expense of the city and its inhabitants.

A new investment threatens to repeat this pattern. The US $1.1 billion AES Liquified Natural Gas project supports the construction, operation and maintenance of energy infrastructure for liquified natural gas that will be transported from the coast of the United States to Colón. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), has committed US $150 million to the AES Corporation, the company in charge of implementing the project.

I first found out about this project through my work with the Early Warning System, a joint initiative by International Accountability Project and the Center for International Environmental Law that monitors harmful development projects early in the project cycle. After completing a preliminary analysis of possible human rights impacts, it became clear to me that communities risked experiencing negative impacts. Energy investments of this size and nature inherently carry environmental risks related to the quality of air, water and biodiversity in the project area. Project documents note that animal life and the general environment of the region will be significantly altered.

Trees taken down in neighborhood affected by the project. Credit: Alexandre Andrade Sampaio

In fact, communities in the surrounding area are already witnessing these impacts, as forests near their homes are razed to make way for construction activities. Workers and the population, as a whole, may face fire and explosion hazards resulting from the processing, storage and transporting of natural gas. Marine ecosystems and the surrounding vegetation are also expected to be threatened by the operations of the proposed power plant. For example, for the plant to function, water will need to be drained from the sea and then discharged at high temperatures. Project documents fail to clearly explain tangible improvements in communities’ quality of life, a characteristic that should be central to projects financed by development banks.

When pursuing a project with such comprehensive risks, the minimum that that companies or funders can do is involve the affected population in meaningful consultations, to listen to their concerns and incorporate their recommendations. In this way, they can minimize or possibly avoid negative impacts and seek to fulfill local priorities, which should be the bedrock of all development projects.

However, in a workshop organized by Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo and the International Accountability Project in November 2016, we learned that not a single resident we spoke with had been consulted about the project before the IFC approved financing. Six months later, they were still not made aware of the full impacts. Lack of engagement and limited access to project documents meant many residents learned about the project for the first time during the workshop. Even though, the company has noted that it held two public consultations, one in November 2015 and the other in March 2016, no one I met in Colón knew about these consultations or who was actually consulted. Moreover, the IFC has not shared any supporting documentation proving these consultations were held or if there had been any substantive follow up or outcomes from these consultations.

Workshop held by ACD and IAP with community members affected by the project

It is hard to understate the importance of meaningful and transparent consultations. Many of the residents I met had been resettled previously by other development projects, some without compensation. They were very afraid of being resettled again as a result of this project. A community-led report is currently being prepared to record these concerns and document the shortcomings in transparency and consultations organized by the company.

It should be noted that AES Corporation is currently facing questions over their conduct with regard to consultations for a separate project in Panama. A case against the State of Panama before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accuses AES Corporation of violating the consultation rights of indigenous peoples who were affected by the construction of the Chan 75 Dam in Bocas del Toro.

My experience analyzing this project and interacting with communities suggests that the IFC has not sufficiently prioritized the well being of those affected. Without timely and transparent consultations, organized around local priorities, it is difficult to believe that the project will ultimately attend the needs of those living in Colón. Communities fear that like previous investments, such as the Free Trade Zone, companies and investors will greatly benefit while those affected will remain in unsafe conditions, now confronting a new threat by a project that impacts their health, environment and households.

Residents hope they may avoid this path by preparing a report to be taken into consideration by those financing the project. We hope this may be an opportunity for sustained and effective dialogue, where communities’ concerns are acknowledged and prioritized in the design and implementation of the project.

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio is the Policy and Programs Coordinator at International Accountability Project based in Brazil.

For Those Who Will Never Be Forgotten

February 14, 2017, 9:50 pm

Tom Weerachat

‘For Those Who Died Trying’ at Think Park, Nimmanhaemin Rd, Chiang Mai (February 4-12, 2017)

“There are only two paths for those defending their communities against harmful development projects: one is jail, the other is death” I remembered these words, first spoken to me by Ms. Jintana Kaewkhao, a shopkeeper and community leader, while looking at the new photo exhibit ‘For Those Who Died Trying’ in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The exhibit, by Luke Duggleby, features images and messages from family members of those missing or killed for defending human rights in Thailand. Looking at the images, I couldn’t help but recall Ms Kawewkhao’s ominous message. In 2011, she was sentenced to four months in prison. Another leader of the same campaign, Mr. Charoen Wataksorn, was shot dead near his residence soon after he had provided testimony about environmental harm suffered by his community. His picture is part of the exhibit.

In Thailand, where I grew up, economic growth has long been championed with little attention paid to tensions and conflicts between investors and communities who disagree with the government’s plans for exploiting natural resources, land and the environment. I was aware people faced violence for speaking up but looking at the images in front of me, I began to realize that it wasn’t just individual cases but the system as a whole.

The exhibition is part of the Chiang Mai Photo Festival 2017

Each photograph in the exhibit depicted the framed image of a human rights defender carefully positioned in the spot where they were last seen alive. The images used were the same ones displayed at their funerals. 37 Thai human rights defenders have died in the last two decades and little is written about the struggle to hold perpetrators accountable, let alone how families of the deceased have been coping. At the opening of the exhibit, an audience member asked if there had been any remedy offered to the victims and their families. Pranom Somwong, from Protection International, responded that the government had done very little to support families. Mostly, community members and their friends had organized themselves to support each other. She added one lesson she had learned from working closely with impacted communities — “The best remedy is for communities to be able to carry on their struggles”

There is a social and political system in place that allows killings and enforced disappearances to happen to those who attempt to defend human rights and the environment. According to a report by Frontline Defenders, 282 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries in 2016 alone. Half of those killed were actively trying to protect land, indigenous and environmental rights.

Speakers at the opening event in Chiang Mai: Shawn Friele, Embassy of Canada; Luke Duggleby, photographer; Pranom Somwong, Protection International, Anusorn Tippayanon, Chiang Mai University

We may become momentarily aware of this kind of brutality when it happens but for most of us, it’s just information - news we read or watch. In introducing the exhibit, Luke Duggleby, said he hoped the project would encourage the public to discuss the problem facing human rights defenders. He added that such problems would have to be solved by Thai society, not outsiders, and it would be important to make sure that the victims“will never be forgotten.” This exhibit attempts to bring stories that seem remote, closer to our lives and experiences. ‘For Those Who Died Trying’ is profound not only to Thai society but to all of us. We must take a moment, look back and seriously consider how to protect and support human rights defenders — ordinary people trying to protect their communities, lands and environment.

Tom Weerachat is the Program Coordinator for the Asia Pacific region at the International Accountability Project. On behalf of IAP, he is humbled to support this impactful and historical project in Chiang Mai. IAP extends its acknowledgements and gratitude to Luke Duggleby and Protection International for working to recognize those who died protecting human and environmental rights in Thailand and to the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University for arranging the showing in Chiang Mai. This exhibit has previously been shown in Geneva, Brussels, Pamplona with more events planned this year in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Songkla and Khon Khaen.

Change through Collective Action — A Model for Community-led Development from Uganda

January 10, 2017, 10:48 pm

By John Mwebe

It is a long winding path leading to Masiwe village, 20 kilometers outside of Mbale town. The route is hilly and rocky and can only be accessed by motorbikes. In two different sections, my motorbike could not go uphill because the slope was too steep and slippery. I walked instead. In Masiwe, homesteads are scattered but a few trading centers are close to the main road. I recalled the words of Esther Nambaafu, Program Manager from Spark Microgrants, who explained why they work in villages like Masiwe, “We look out for hard to reach areas whose communities have not had any contact with organizations and with limited government service provision. These are the communities that we work with.”

This was my introduction to Spark Microgrants, an organization that works with communities to drive their own change. Interventions by Spark Microgrants facilitate poor communities to build infrastructure for civic engagement and promote inclusive participation of all community members so they may take collective local actions that create change in their region.

At 10:00 am, community members gathered and developed an agenda for the day’s meeting. This is the routine for communities working with Spark Microgrants. Community members utilize two hours each week to meet and discuss their project. Discussions are moderated by Spark Microgrants staff who offer guidance, but do not participate in making decisions.

To understand why communities participate in this process, I talked to Fred Onyango, a Program Officer with Spark Microgrants “We follow a Facilitated Collective Action Process where we engage communities in determining their development agenda through providing six months of management support and two years of follow-up support. In this entire process, we emphasize community ownership of these projects. Communities do this is by offering their time to meet for two hours every week without any payment for meals or transport. Communities on the other hand agreed to use the same day to hold meetings for their Savings and Credit Groups”

John Mwebe interviewing Mr. Ginoni Amidu, the Chairman, Masiwe Namuzezembi Saving Group in Masiwe Village

Indeed, the communities that I had visited had already selected different projects for implementation and could clearly articulate why they chose one project over another. In Masiwe, communities agreed on a vegetable growing project whereas communities in Makuyu village chose growing food crops instead, like Irish potatoes, maize and beans.

In Kigunga village, I observed a meeting where the community had to choose one out of three proposed community-led projects involving horticulture, cattle rearing and a village savings fund. At the conclusion of this process, Spark Microgrants would offer of a start-up grant of up to US $10,000 to support the project. It was interesting for me to listen to communities articulate how the accrued benefits of one project could support the development of other projects.

Mr. Akabu Namagoye, a community member in support of cattle rearing shared his opinion; “The milk from the cow is sold which earns the family an income, while part of it is left for home consumption improving nutrition in the household. The income received enhances the individual’s ability to save with the village saving and credit scheme while the cow dung from the animals is used as manure when growing horticultural crops.

Aidah Namono, a resident of the same village argued, “Horticulture is the most viable option. It earns farmers an income to buy cows for rearing and to save as well. This is unlike cattle rearing which requires much land that community members don’t possess.”

Community meeting in Kigunga. Community members decide to rebuild the home of a fellow resident.

As I talked to communities going through this process, I noticed a great sense of community cohesion and ownership over the project; two elements which are vital for its sustainability. Women held leadership positions, particularly in Kigunga where they outnumbered men in the Community Savings and Credit group. Some group leaders used their organizing skills to be voted into leadership positions within their local governments, which in turn has improved the community’s access to lobby government for services.

My most treasured memory from the visit happened when the community came together to build a new house for an elderly woman whose home had broken down. Indeed when I asked about how they would react to a harmful project, community members responded that they would help affected persons rebuild their homes where they have been resettled and provide loans from their scheme to start businesses. Throughout, I sensed the community would make the most of their strengths and capacity to steer their own development.

John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda.


What are forced evictions, how do they occur and how do communities respond?  Produced by WITNESS and IAP’s Executive Director,People Before Profit explains the global context in which forced evictions occur.

Now in 12 languages.



How can governments and corporations knowingly force a community from their homes? Produced by Amnesty International, WITNESS and IAP’s Executive Director, Evict Them! In 5 Easy Steps is a short satirical animation which shows why some governments resort to human rights abuses in the name of development.

Now in 11 languages.

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