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U.N. Chief to Question Sudan on Dams' Impact
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U.N. Chief to Question Sudan on Dams' Impact



U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon leaves tomorrow for Sudan. Darfur is, of course, on the agenda. But the U.N. chief is also expected to raise another human rights concern - the displacement of thousands of people for hydroelectric projects along the Nile River.

Reports of residents forced out by construction and deliberate flooding have been hitting the desk of Miloon Kothari. He holds the title of U.N. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. I asked him what, if any, compensation the Sudanese government was providing?

Mr. MILOON KOTHARI (U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing): Many have not been offered a resettlement at all. Last year, in fact, one of the areas where 3,000 families were displaced, people were only given a six-day notice before the flooding of the area took place.

ELLIOTT: Where would these people go?

Mr. KOTHARI: Well, we have to remember that we're talking about a country that has possibly the largest internal displacement situation in the world today. I think the last U.N. figure show that in the last two decades, there is something like five million people who have been displaced.

We have to remember that there was a very serious conflict in the south. There was a peace agreement in 2005, but subsequent to that, the people who are displaced from that conflict have not been able to go back. The figures we have or that - there's something like two million people in and around Khartoum or internally displaced. But the global attention to this issue has not really focused on the severely insecure and deprived housing and living conditions in which these people are living, and the fact that there is no comprehensive resettlement or housing policy in the country.

ELLIOT: Will the U.N. also be putting pressure on the foreign countries and the international companies that are actually funding these hydroelectric dam projects and (unintelligible)?

Mr. KOTHARI: Well, yes. I have actually started this process in my public statement. I have named the countries that are contributing financially to the project, including China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others. And I have named companies - hard(ph) being from China, La Mier International from Germany, and some from France who are contributing equipment and material for the construction of the dam. I think the fact that we have named them certainly exposes them and puts pressure on them to explain why is it that they continue to fund the project.

And I think it also points out a duplicity with the international community, where in the one hand, countries are attempting to all work together to try to resolve severe human rights crisis in Sudan. But on the other hand, some of the very same countries are supporting projects that are themselves violating people's human rights.

ELLIOT: Mr. Kothari, how can you balance this poor country's need for electricity to foster economic development with the problems and the needs of the local community?

Mr. KOTHARI: I think the balance that has to be there is to ensure that people are allowed to continue with their livelihood. These are very proud people who have an economy and what these large projects essentially do is they increase poverty and they increase displacement. So I think that there are examples that are on the world of how it could be done. And I'm not taking a position that eviction should never happen.

There are times where infrastructure for the reasons when displacement has to occur, but there have to be safeguards built in. You have to guarantee to the community that once they are displaced, they'll be better off. Unless all of this is done, it does not make any sense to proceed with these large projects.

ELLIOT: Miloon Kothari is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. KOTHARI: Thank you.

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