The contractor in charge of rebuilding Cambodia’s national railway has been cutting corners on the health and safety of its workers, according to a report published yesterday by the Asian Development Bank. TSO-AS & Nawarath, a French-Thai joint venture, was reportedly found to have grossly violated health and safety requirements at workers’ camps along both the northern and southern rail lines.

The report details, among other infractions, the deep pits and quarries left behind by TSO workers as they dig soil and stone for use in other areas of a construction site. Those pits along the section of the project located between Sisophan and Poipet, “were very dangerous … especially to children, [who] can fall into the pit and die”, the report states.The pits had steep slopes, to a depth of more than four metres, according to the report, and yet TSO had made no attempt to take preventative measures.

Safety scandals

In late 2010, two children – a brother and sister aged 9 and 13 respectively – drowned while fetching water from a pond on a Battambang resettlement site for families who previously lived along the railway, according to media reports.

The Cambodian government-sanctioned site was reported to be without fresh running water.Japanese engineering firm Nippon Koei Co Ltd, the supervising consultant hired by the Cambodian government to oversee the rehabilitation project, conducted its investigation in December after TSO-AS & Nawarath failed to submit a monthly environmental report in November.

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Railway project suffers a blow

The Government of Australia and the Asian Development Bank are working with the Royal Government of Cambodia and other donor partners to rehabilitate the national railway in Cambodia. The existing railway has fallen into a state of significant disrepair following years of neglect and vandalism dating back to the Khmer Rouge era.

The new railway will position Cambodia as a true-subregional transport hub, creating new jobs and business opportunities in the manufacturing and logistic services sectors. The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of Cambodia’s transport system will also be enhanced by enabling the efficient and safe transport of heavy, bulky, and hazardous cargo.

On 21 November 2011, ADB’s Office of the Special Project Facilitator – which facilitates solutions to concerns brought forward by persons affected by ADB-supported projects – received a complaint about resettlement under the project. On 11 January 2012, the complaint was deemed eligible for the consultation phase of the review and assessment process. This consultation phase aims to help people affected by ADB-assisted projects in finding solutions to their concerns and problems. It is led by ADB’s Special Project Facilitator, who reports directly to ADB’s President. The review and assessment of the complaint involves one-on-one interviews with persons affected by the project and other major stakeholders, and was just concluded on 10 February 2012. A Review and Assessment Report will be prepared and shared with the major stakeholders for comments.

Some of the concerns raised in the BABC report are still in the process of being addressed, and ADB is fully committed to ensuring full compliance with its safeguards.

As with all resettlement programs, compensation and income restoration are complex and difficult challenges. In an effort to expand income restoration activities for families who have been affected by the project, AusAID provided additional grant financing of AUD 1 million (USD 960,000 equivalent) in November 2011, and discussions about further expansion are ongoing. The External Monitoring Organization working on the project is also finalizing its report on compensation rates, which is expected to be completed later this month, and which will guide any needed rate adjustments.

In Cambodia, where land ownership rights are still in the process of being redefined after private land ownership was abolished by the Khmer Rouge regime, resettlement is an inherently complex process. The vast majority of families resettled under the project had no land titles for the properties they occupied. Notwithstanding the issues that still need to be resolved, many families resettled by the project will have the opportunity to own legal land titles for the first time in their lives, with improved living conditions and better access to water and electricity provided in the new communities.

While resettlement challenges continue to be seriously addressed, significant progress is being made on other railway rehabilitation work. The project is upgrading 610 kilometers of Cambodia’s dilapidated rail tracks, and reconstructing an additional 48 kilometers of missing rail link. Part of the rehabilitated rail line is already operational, and by the end of 2013 Cambodia will have a fully functioning national railway again, increasing the competitiveness of the country’s economy, and bringing a range of economic benefits to Cambodia and its people.

View additional information about ADB’s Accountability Mechanism.

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