MAC: Mines and Communities

Russia to relocate 600,000 from frozen north: World Bank backs scheme

Published by MAC on 2003-05-30

Russia to relocate 600,000 from frozen north

The World Bank is bankrolling a huge "resettlement" project - of up to 600,000 people from Russia's indigenous arctic/Siberian north. At first sight it's reminiscent of the notorious and vastly dehumanising transmigrasi programme, promoted by the Bank in Indonesia during the sixties and seventies. Even though the Bank maintains it's purely voluntary, and many will certainly be workers who were sent to the region under Stalin's massive programme to rip off its mineral riches with no regard for health or the environment, many indigenous families may be pressured into this new programme. The denial of Indigenous rights in the region was specifically focussed upon in presentations at the EIR panel in Oxford, in April 2003. And what will be left behind? Massive mineral resources increasingly purloined and exploited by private companies (whose activities have already been criticised on this site in London Calling).

Russia to relocate 600,000 from frozen north: World Bank backs scheme to help poor

Nick Paton Walsh, The Guardian

Friday May 30, 2003

Up to 600,000 Russians are to be moved from remote parts of Siberia and the Arctic, officials in Moscow announced yesterday. The move will be one of the biggest population relocations since the Stalin era.

Large swaths of Russia's northern regions, which include mining towns, have decayed since the collapse of communism. Without government subsidies families have been forced to endure poverty and the extreme climate.

The areas to be assisted by the government's programme, which is being partly financed by the World Bank, include Yakutia, in central Russia, Kamchatka, a peninsula north of Japan, and Chukotka in the north-east. Inhabitants would be resettled near urban centres where they could find work and cheap accommodation.

The project, which has been in a pilot phase for several years, has rekindled memories of the forced resettlements under Stalin when minorities, such as Chechens and Jews, were moved at the regime's will.

However, the latest effort is intended to provide assistance only to those who want to leave the hostile regions they once came to in search of the higher wages the Soviet government paid to miners.

The ministry of economic development and trade announced yesterday that between 200,000 and 600,000 people would be moved. A budget of £18m would be allocated for this purpose in 2003-4.

Mukhamed Tsikanov, the deputy minister of development, said that he wanted companies in the remote areas to use "shift work wherever necessary", and for "people to be resettled wherever possible".

Andrei Markov, the coordinator of a World Bank project called Russia's Northern Restructuring, said: "The idea came in 1998 when the Russian government approached the World Bank for support.

"We decided to run a pilot project in the coal-mining town of Vorkuta, the nickel town of Norilsk and the gold-rich Susuman district of Magadan." Norilsk, which began as a gulag, is believed to be Russia's most polluted town. Life expectancy is 10 years below the average for Russia. The air is thick with sulphur which turns the snow yellow.

Mr Markov said that the project was more a "migration assistance scheme" than resettlement, which aimed to "provide only migration assistance on a voluntary basis for families who ask for it". It began in August last year, and its total cost is estimated at £49m. He said: "About 1,800 families now have applied for participation in the project, 600 of whom have already received housing costs.

"In the Soviet times these places were heavily subsidised by the state as they were very interested in developing the areas at all costs to generate natural resources. After the economic reform [of the 1990s], the subsidies are unaffordable."

The subsidised industries have been sold to the private sector, which, Mr Markov said, was "downsizing and restructuring", leading to cuts in jobs. He said that 800,000 people out of a total population of 11 million had left the affected areas.

"Large groups are still stuck there because they do not have any resources. The federal budget has to pay a lot for the housing and heating costs of keeping them there." He estimated that the pilot project would help 25,000 people, and that after assessing its outcome, there was a strong possibility the World Bank would "scale up" the effort, perhaps to the levels proposed yesterday by the Russian government.

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