Expert Interview With Terri Stiffler, Resettlement Expert
Meeting comprehensive resettlement needs for global infrastructure projects
Terri Stiffler began her professional career as an electrical engineer in the defense industry. She changed jobs, moving into the environmental and international development field to pursue her passions of protecting the environment and improving the lives of those less fortunate around the world. After a life-changing experience volunteering with the Peace Corps in a rural village in Zimbabwe, and then working as a scientist for an environmental nongovernmental organization in Washington, DC, she joined Tetra Tech. For nearly 10 years, Ms. Stiffler has specialized in resettlement planning and implementation oversight to support infrastructure development and rehabilitation, including water, sanitation, roads, flood mitigation, and power projects. She has worked in Ethiopia, the Republic of Georgia, India, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Zambia.
Ms. Stiffler is leading Tetra Tech’s delivery of resettlement services for nearly 5,000 individuals and businesses impacted by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)-funded Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage (LWSSD) project. According to the MCC, more than 1 million Zambians are expected to benefit from LWSSD, which is designed to help improve city drainage, water, and sanitation and the Zambian Government's ongoing efforts at water sector reform.
Ms. Stiffler holds master’s degrees in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Massachusetts and in Water and Waste Engineering from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.
What is involuntary resettlement?
The design and construction of infrastructure projects, whether funded nationally or with support from international development assistance donors—such as MCC, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—bring significant economic and social improvements to impoverished areas in developing countries. These projects often require the acquisition of land, homes, and other assets that are privately owned or used in the construction corridor where the infrastructure is to be built. These acquisitions may require physical relocation or involuntary resettlement of households, impact livelihoods, and disrupt communities and families. Marginalized and vulnerable groups can be disproportionally impacted and, if the resettlement is not properly planned and implemented, these already disadvantaged populations may be left worse off after the project is completed. The World Bank estimates that since 1990 approximately 10 million people worldwide have been displaced each year due to infrastructure development projects—or nearly 300 million people total to date.
Tetra Tech supports international organizations’ efforts to ensure their strict resettlement policies and standards are implemented when addressing project impacts. This work includes resettlement planning to help identify impacts and proposed mitigation and compensation, as well as services during resettlement such as relocation, livelihood restoration, social welfare advice and referral, and administration of compensation packages.
What are the policies and standards that govern the way resettlement is conducted for international development projects?
Each project is implemented in compliance with the country’s land acquisition and involuntary resettlement requirements and the international standard required by the donor organization. Examples of international requirements include the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standards, the World Bank’s Operational Policies, and ADB’s Safeguard Policies. In cases of conflict between the national and international requirements, the more stringent requirements apply to the project. In general, these policies and standards have three main tenets: avoid resettlement wherever possible; if unable to avoid, minimize resettlement; and ensure that those impacted are left in a better—or equivalent—condition than prior to the project.
Why is resettlement important for development projects?
Historically development projects were treated as simple construction projects, without much regard for their human and social impacts. Disadvantaged groups were often disproportionally impacted and left much worse off after the completion of the project.
Resettlement is now integrated into most international projects, from design through construction. The resettlement team works with the project designers from the beginning to avoid and minimize impacts where possible, including identifying design alternatives that will meet this objective. The resettlement team continues to work through the construction period to further identify, avoid, and minimize impacts where possible. When impacts are unavoidable, the resettlement teams survey the impacted people and businesses and quantify the impacts to ensure those effects and losses will be fully restored. Those affected receive full replacement compensation for lost assets—including costs to reconstruct, purchase materials, transport, and temporary accommodations, if required—and social services such as alternative livelihood training for those who lose their primary source of income. Throughout the entire process, resettlement teams are in constant communication with the impacted communities to inform them of events and to consult with them and receive inputs on planned designs and construction activities.
In the end, a fully integrated and well-planned resettlement program not only will support those impacted by the project and ensure they share in the benefits, but also will allow for a smoother project implementation, avoiding delays that often arise due to social opposition.
How do you balance the needs of the client who is trying to get something built with the needs of those impacted by the projects?
This balance can be challenging, but we have learned that a robust and intense communication plan helps maintain client priorities by eliminating and reducing impacts and the objections of the affected parties. Communicating early and often builds trust between the field team and the community, allowing them to voice their concerns. The resettlement team must be thorough, allowing sufficient time to meet with each impacted person, prepare their compensation and support package, gain their acceptance, and then work with the client to ensure timely payment. The impacted person must also be allowed sufficient time—usually a month minimum—to salvage any materials from their impacted property and move. And all of this must happen prior to the start of construction. Resettlement efforts must strike the fine balance between clearing the construction corridor too early—creating an opportunity for encroachment—and delaying clearance to the point where construction contractors are affected.
With proper planning and close integration with the construction team—including careful alignment with planned activities—the project corridors can be cleared and construction can proceed without delays. In Zambia Tetra Tech’s LWSSD resettlement team includes upwards of 50 Zambians working on resettlement compensation for 5,000 impacted parties along 550 kilometers of sewer and water lines and through more than 30 hectares of farmland. Our efforts have successfully resolved diverse resettlement challenges and helped keep construction on track and on schedule.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of resettlement work?
Resettlement always poses numerous challenges, but I think the top three are understanding and incorporating each country’s requirements regarding land acquisition and resettlement; coordinating with community stakeholders and the design engineers and final construction teams to avoid and reduce impacts; and keeping the vast quantities of data captured for each affected person or entity organized and protected.
Resettlement also offers many fulfilling opportunities within each project and country’s unique challenges. Whether we are relocating people’s homes or socially sensitive areas, such as graveyards and markets, the opportunity to meet the needs or even improve the quality of life of the affected community while building infrastructure that will benefit society is rewarding on both fronts. I am fortunate to work with dedicated teams who are the face of the project, meeting firsthand with those impacted. I find inspiration in their dedication to bringing positive development to their country, while ensuring that those impacted are treated with respect and dignity and fully and equitably compensated. The most rewarding aspect, however, is to see the final project come to fruition and bring much-needed social and economic improvements to the residents’ lives, especially those who are most vulnerable.