It is not unheard of, that powerful groups conspire to undermine the land rights and security of tenure of vulnerable groups in order to advance their own interests post disaster.
These risks must be addressed as part of the recovery and reconstruction phases. Land issues such as security of tenure, land use, land access and land administration are important to key humanitarian sectors after a disaster. Rights to land are integral to the human rights of all.
I don’t know about you but ‘land grabbing’ is something I associate with the third world- corporates like the Malaysian palm oil giants buying up lands for plantations in West Africa, in turn affecting the price of food and causing high rates of poverty and malnutrition. Last month, Oxfam released its Our Land, Our Lives report on land grabbing (See http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bn-land-lives-freeze-041012-en_1.pdf) which said that foreign investors had bought enough land in the past decade to feed 1 billion people: “But the sad fact is that very few if any of these land investments benefit local people or help to fight hunger.” This kind of land grabbing has been referred to as “predatory land grab”.
Here are in Christchurch City we are experiencing another form of land grab – the ‘strategic land grab’. It differs in scale and the nature of the perpetrators vary as do their techniques of dispossession, but the outcomes are equally devastating for those involved.
The time has come when the Government/CERA has begun to ‘negotiate’ with land owners, both commercial and residential in the red zone in Christchurch, for the pieces of ground they will on-sell to big developers so that these corporates can create multi-million dollar shopping malls and precincts for their shareholders. It is clear that it will be the current owners of the land who will lose out. The Government’s ‘valuations’ for the land will leave many out of pocket. The Crown states that it is basing its ‘land settlements’ on market valuations, including ‘recent sales, the condition of the land, insurance, and location’. Most do not believe this to be the true picture.
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, many residents and business owners had little choice but to abandon their property and relocate elsewhere. Large amounts of prime real estate in New Orleans and other coastal cities became available for literally pennies on the dollar. Several major real estate investors seized the opportunity to acquire this property through what critics viewed as an unethical land grab. When landowners suffer undue economic pressure to sell their land at a loss, the results could be seen as more of a land grab by opportunists than a genuine interest in future development by the new owners. When the Government is the opportunist, we need to worry.
What I am struck by here in Christchurch, is the lack accountability, lack of transparency and the incredible and spectacular lack of ‘diplomacy’. What is currently transpiring is far removed from agreed initial proposals for land acquisition and is so politically motivated as to be a subject of derision, were it not so serious. There is no doubt that it will also prove to be economically damaging to the people of Christchurch and to New Zealand’s image abroad- and let’s face it people are watching. The whole affair must be deeply embarrassing to those within government who are attuned to current economic realities, but are unable to prevent their ‘leader’ and the CERA boss from continuing to plot their current course. ‘Plot’ is probably the correct term!
As I listen to the objections by Christchurch residents I am reminded of the events that took place in Thailand after the 2004 tsunami there. Thailand’s well-heeled and corrupt politicians just as New Zealand politicians were very eager to evict the people and have them hand over their land – the people, however, were skeptical of the hollow Government promises. In response to the Government offers they gathered together hundreds of people and engaged in land “reinvasions”. The residents of the BanTungWahVillage in the Phang Nga province encircled their wrecked village with rope, in a symbolic gesture to mark their land ownership. The entire community camped out on the site and it became difficult for authorities to chase them away, especially given the intense media attention being focused on tsunami rehabilitation. In hindsight their community leaders say that their success was due to the fact that people negotiated for their land rights from a position of occupation, some have dubbed the practice “negotiating with your hands”.
It seems remarkable that people have to resort to such extreme measures to protect what is theirs by right and that it can be so easily taken away if there is no concerted opposition, by the very people they fund to govern their society.
Recently I went to listen to Hordur Torfason talk about his experiences in starting the “Cutlery Revolution’ in Iceland during the Global Financial Crisis. He recounted how he and the people of Iceland forced their corrupt government to resign, the banks were nationalized and a democratic process for dealing with private bank debts and a new constitution was created. Here’s the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jZZ_Z6wI38. In contrast, the people of Cyprus put up little serious opposition when their own Government plotted to steal from them and plundered their bank accounts – by up to 40% of their savings!! Sh@# happens, if you let it and it could clearly happen here – Small, isolated ‘democracies’ are a sitting target for greedy, bankrupt banks and governments. While we just sit, nothing will change, so watch closely as to what our corporate government is proposing in respect of banking and SPEAK UP.
Where are our constitutional lawyers? https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/calling-the-constitutional-lawyers-of-new-zealand-we-need-your-help-once-again-in-the-red-zone-2/.