Mongolia: ADB’s road to poverty

By Lorena Cotza Nov 10, 2020

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The video and the blog below was prepared by OT-Watch, in collaboration with other CSOs.

In Mongolia, in the Ger district of Ulaanbaatar, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding the construction of a road. But the local population call it “the ADB road to poverty”.

ADB has been involved in urban development in Mongolia since 1992 and to this date has invested a total of $376 Million dollars, in various of forms of financing. ADB also contributed with technical assistance, to develop policies and legal frameworks for urban development in compliance with the Bank standards. Yet, despite these efforts, the local population impacted by the road is being heavily impacted.

Oyuntugs, director of “6 Buudal” NGO, says:

“We filed a complaint regarding the ADB project. The Selbe sub-center project is affecting peoples’ lives. Residents are fleeing home because of risks caused by cracks in the wall and fences. They promised to reduce poverty but this is leading to more poverty, residents forced to flee are sliding into more poverty. We are also working on many cases of breakage of residents’ cars and injuries sustained by falling, where the road or pedestrian passages were wrecked because of the construction works and where no temporary passages were created. Some resettled people have not found a new home yet, and their livelihoods are diminishing. The size of land allotted is too small. The promised 500 sq. meters outside town are now down to 250 and people have not been able to move in. Their livelihoods are at risk”.

In Mongolia, citizens have the right to obtain a piece of land free of charge and live on it for free. However, resettled families were offered cash compensation for their land and received land possession titles for a 5-year period, instead of restoring their ownership title. Why is this a problem? Possession titles require payment of land fees, which is an additional burden on resettled families already suffering from economic and social displacement.

In addition, the Mongolian tradition of living as a “khot ail” of two or more families on the same plot was disregarded in the ADB’s Land Acquisition and Resettlement Plan. Land titling principles borrowed from a sedentary culture were applied to issue a land certificate to only one family. Remaining families were to go without compensation of any kind. Compensation for non-title holders negotiated under the Office of the Special Project Facilitator’s problem solving process in 2018 is not being honored by the Project Management Unit in the valuation process for other sub-centers.

“When we asked if we could apply for the 1,800.000 MNT (appx $100 per month) compensation for the six months transition support and 250,000 MNT (appx. $88) moving cost they said: “your children are not eligible because they have not lived at this address in the last 6 months”. The reason I am reacting to this is because my children have not lived here in the past 6 months due to COVID. They have not been able to come home because are stuck there, otherwise they would have come back and make a living like always, but they are still out there now”, says a community member. 

ADB continues to use every possible pretext to reduce compensation. Family members stuck outside Mongolia due to COVID were cut from compensation because they hadn’t lived at the registered address for the last 6 months. It appears that the ADB has not communicated the policies for protecting people and migrant workers affected by COVID restrictions from further harm. A cash amount of $35,000 is considered a decent compensation but it will not buy an apartment that can comfortably house 6 adults and 2 children of the titleholder. 

“This is the path to 7 Buudal and there is no pedestrian crossing. They did not think about human comfort. You walk here – no passing, walk there – nothing. People fall and get injured walking on these rocks and bridges. I fell and cracked scull and spent many days with swollen face, runny eyes, not able to work. It hurt.

It is impossible to live in this khashaa. I am a father of 6 children and there is no way I can build a house here. My kids used to play up the river across there but now the road is blocking the way. Cars on this road drive at 50 miles and faster.  There’s no thinking of children’s safety at all. Look at the fences fallen and stolen during the winter. No remedy, it is not clear who is supposed to restore. Meeting with bosses and implementers they point me “go here, go there” and have not taken a single decision. Look at the driveway they built. What car can drive up on it to the road? Driving up to the road with cars speeding on it. Don’t know where to go. We got a road in our plot.  This is deep poverty. Is there any upward development? We definitely do not see it”, says a community member.

As if taking away land and livelihoods for little compensation was not enough, the actual construction phase is shamelessly trespassing into peoples’ property. Families who were denied compensation because officially they were not going to be affected by the road are now struggling to live, with a road blocking their door, and fences hanging over their heads. Families are being forced to flee without compensation. But now families are demanding to be resettled in a safe place, with an adequate compensation  for the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. 

Community member Myagmarsuren Munkhzul says: “I’ve been living for the past 15 years at Sukhbaatar district 14th Horoo, at this address. The ADB–funded Selbe sub-center project is causing major problems to our livelihood. Because the road is built right behind our plot fences fell, there is no guarantee that a car will not fall in here.  In addition, there’s so little land left, with no space to put the latrine. Because of road works, the wall of the house cracked sustaining major damages. The backside fences fell under pressure of the road slope during the winter and while fixed now there is a possibility that they will fall again. Living with no fences has caused a lot of thefts and robberies. Because of this project’s work, the street camera disappeared almost a year ago. Therefore, the situation is very difficult with not knowing where the stolen things are and who is responsible for all this. All I can ask for is for you to create conditions for us to live peacefully with no risks here, where we are”. 

The Green Climate Fund will soon approve a co-financing for the housing that will use coal-based electricity for heating, but it will also displace marginalized communities to make space for their climate-resilient and affordable town houses. The Green Climate Fund, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank are all taking part in these urban development projects, affecting negatively on the livelihoods of Ger residents as they don’t ensure their safeguards policies are being implemented. Development investors should fulfill their promise to reduce poverty to stop financing infrastructure for the rich minority by physically, economically and socially displacing Ger district residents.    

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Lorena Cotza
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