Analysis by Marwaan Macan-Markar
(IPS) BANGKOK -- Just how many people have to be thrown out of their homes in the name of 'economic progress' to arouse the interest of a regional United Nations body that claims to care for Asians living marginal existences?
This is one question that the Bangkok-based Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) cannot avoid, now that a well-known Geneva-based voluntary agency has awarded China the equivalent of a golden raspberry for housing.
China received the ‘Housing Rights Violators in 2005' award for "its appalling record of government-sanctioned forced evictions and its flagrant disregard for the human right to adequate housing."
"More than 40 million Chinese farmers lost their land and livelihood in the past 20 years due to rapid industrialization and urbanization," states the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), a non-governmental group (NGO), which has been making these awards for the past four years.
"At least 1.25 million households were demolished and nearly 3.7 million people evicted and relocated throughout China in the past decade, causing widespread suffering to thousands of communities across the country," added COHRE, which even held a public ceremony for these awards, on Dec. 2.
Shanghai, considered the symbol of China's bustling new economy, is where most of these violations have taken place. Some 850,000 households have been demolished and 2.5 million people evicted during a 10-year period from 1993-2003. "Another 60,000 residents are facing eviction and relocation away from the urban center in the near future,' the NGO said.
"In China, it is impossible to resist evictions by using the courts or the legal system," Scott Leckie, COHRE's executive director, told IPS. "What we are seeing is one of the most dramatic instances, in recent years, of urban landscapes being changed through forced evictions."
This scenario of abuse appears to be of little concern to the authors of ESCAP's annual flagship report, the 'Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific.' Not a word has been mentioned about the victims of China's march towards industrialization in these reports, published over the past five years.
On the contrary, reports by the UN body have only sung praises for China's rapid economic growth rates. The 2005 report mirrored ESCAP's comfortable embrace of the gross domestic product (GDP) numbers that China has been posting -- averaging between eight to nine percent annual growth rates in the recent years.
"China, the second-largest economy (in the region), performed beyond expectations and exceeded the rapid growth of 2003 to achieve a 9.5 percent growth rate (in 2004)," states the ESCAP report, released in April this year.
The only victims who merited concern in this year's publication were the tens of thousands who survived last December's Indian Ocean tsunami. The report talked about the severe damage to the physical and social infrastructure of the affected countries, "as well as export-oriented sectors such as fisheries, agriculture and tourism."
China was presented in a similar positive light by ESCAP officials on the eve of a UN summit in September in New York, where the world's leaders met to review the progress made towards achieving the eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Asian giant was credited for lifting millions of people out of poverty due to its rapid industrialization agenda, a fact that could help the Asian region come close to achieving the first of the eight MDGs that the world's leaders have pledged to meet by 2015. The first MDG is to halve by 2015, people living in absolute poverty -- less than one U.S. dollar a day in 1990.
By 2003, some 173 million Chinese were living below this poverty benchmark--a dramatic drop of more than half from the 377 million people living in absolute poverty in China in 1990.
Yet, it is progress that has come at a heavy price for a section of the Chinese society, as the COHRE award highlighted. It is one that has included "police harassment and brutality" triggering 74,000 protests and riots by victims of forced evictions across China last year, according to COHRE.
"ESCAP does not keep important details out from its publications," Ravi Ratnayake, director of ESCAP's poverty and development division, said in an IPS interview. "It is not for ESCAP to take sides in a debate on the social impact of the policies of the Chinese government when the so-called facts themselves are a matter of dispute."
"It is ESCAP's view that national governments are the best judges of what policies are appropriate for their countries within the constraints of their particular circumstances," he adds.
On the contrary, the World Bank appears to be more concerned at the harm to Chinese citizens caused by rapid urbanization. "China's rapid urbanization and economic growth has led to increasing acquisition of land and housing demolition, for both private (commercial or industrial) and public infrastructure purposes," states a World Bank background note on its web page on China.
"Inadequacies in policy or practice often has resulted in harm to thousands of affected households," it adds. "In the past two years, land acquisition or housing demolition-related conflicts have occurred in several cities."
"The concerns we and others raised in a number of areas have been taken very seriously by the government," Bert Hofman, the Bank's lead economist in China, told IPS.
For COHRE, the Chinese government must ideally find the right mix between blending urbanization and protecting people from being victims of forced evictions. "You can have economic development and housing rights at the same time," says Leckie.
December 7, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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