Liberia – Resettlement of villages

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Liberia  – Resettlement of villages

‘A community that is engaged and working together can be a powerful force.’

As we were identifying people that were going to be affected by the transmission lines there were discussions by the consultants and project management about an emergency dam that wasn’t part of the original planning and rehabilitation. Having such considerations that late in the execution phase is unusual as any changes would technically have serious impacts and that would require a lot of time and pre-planning to assure that the requirements for those amendments or extensions of the project were met. The decision was then eventually made to build the emergency dam, which required the resettlement of three villages that were in the flooding zone if the dam was opened during an emergency event.
A resettlement usually is planned and takes place way ahead of the actual construction phase. But in this case it was going to be an almost impossible situation because the resettlement was held off until the final decision to build the emergency dam was going to be approved by the funders. Because if it was being approved then the resettlement technically would have needed to have already happened because any delay to the construction had serious consequences on the overall project success. Which is what then happened, when the emergency dam was approved and the villages needed to be resettled within the shorted time possible.
I was already in the country at the time the decision was made and agreed to stay to plan and supervise the resettlement. What was in our favour was that it only affected three villages, 23 houses in total and about 200+ people, which is a very small resettlement. Also the government had provided land that was close by so that the resettlement could be done within the same neighbourhood. In other circumstances a resettlement often means that a large number of people or even communities need to be resettled to a further away areas where not only they have to adapt to new environments but also the ‘receiving’ communities need to be prepared and supported for the influx of people they are not familiar with and the focus is then on integration that required for both sides. In our case moving within the same neighbourhood meant that they have still access to the same markets, schools, hospitals, and knew the people that lived there.

The challenge was to plan within this very short amount of time but to really include the villagers in the process as much as possible. Within weeks we had decided together on a village layout, established their current living arrangements and ways of incomes and planned their new homes. In that time the area was prepared for the new village and construction started almost immediately. Since we were under time pressure it was carried out by the projects construction company but the villagers were involved and participated when possible. It was definitely our focus to make them own the process and we spent the months leading up to their move preparing them for this massive change in their lives. They would not only move to a new area and into new houses, but because the move was facilitated by the project and the houses – although really simple – were a higher standard from their previous houses we needed to address their own expectations, ways to deal with new and different challenges, a change in their village set-up, possible expectations from their families as there was now an assumption that they had money, and the potential judgement and jealousy from the neighbouring communities. That process continued for a whole year after their move, where we held regular meetings, financial trainings and community building events.

The actual resettlement was completed within six months, while construction already started on the emergency dam. But the real work was eventually to guide and support the villagers as well as the neighbouring communities through the change, during the planning but most of all in the time after the move when the actual change could be felt and was apparent and revealed which challenges they eventually were facing and needed to deal with.