Extractive Industries and Energy Projects and Their Impacts to Indigenous Peoples in Asia

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Asia is the largest of the world’s continents, covering approximately 1/3 of the Earth’s land area. It is the world’s most populous continent, with roughly 60% of the world’s total population, and the most demographically diverse.

“Asia’s natural resources are among the richest and most diverse in the planet. The region holds 20% of the world’s biodiversity, 14% of the world’s tropical forests, and 34% of global coral resources, including the greatest number of marine species in the world. Asia’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity provide numerous social and economic benefits, providing local livelihoods, supporting food, water and energy security, and regulating the global climate.”

It is also, where many of the poor and developing countries of the world are located. With its large and diverse population and its economic underdevelopment, Asia is a huge source of cheap and skilled labor, with the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and India providing a work force relatively proficient in English.

“Inside Asia itself, there is a growing gap among developed economies such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea; developing economies such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan; and emerging economies such as Cambodia, India and Vietnam.”1

According to the World Bank-UNPFii, Asia is also home to the majority, or approximately 2/3, of the 300 to 370 million of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. States and governments formally refer to them as tribal peoples, hill tribes, scheduled tribes, janajati, orang asli, masyarakat adat, adivasis, ethnic minorities, or nationalities. Regardless of terminology, the common problems faced by Indigenous Peoples include non-recognition of land rights, discrimination, marginalization by and neglect of government, misrepresentation in governance, militarization, and commercialization of culture.

Worldwide, “IP suffer higher rates of poverty, landlessness, malnutrition and internal displacement than other members of society do and they have lower levels of literacy and less access to health services. While IP constitute about 5% of the world’s population they make up about 1/3 of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people.”2

This situation of Indigenous Peoples is most ironic as indigenous lands, territories, and waters are rich in natural resources and biodiversity. According to reports, most of the remaining natural resources worldwide – which are valuable and essential to the survival of all peoples – are in indigenous territories. States, governments and corporations have extracted and exploited these resources for decades in the name of “national development” or “national interest” but such extraction and exploitation have had very little or no benefits at all to Indigenous Peoples. In fact, these have been disastrous for Indigenous Peoples as a whole.

One of the gravest and most urgent threats facing Indigenous Peoples and all peoples of Asia and the world are extractive industries which include large-scale destructive mining of minerals, oil and gas; corporate energy projects; commercial logging; and economic land concessions for monocrop plantations.

The extraction of natural resources of Indigenous Peoples has been intensified by the widening scale and deepening intensity of the profitoriented and market-based economy and, in the recent years, the economy’s growing focus on Asia through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Integration. Along the lines of corporate globalization, Asian governments and States review, amend and enact national laws in order to remove measures that restrict the exploitation of natural resources and that impede the free flow of foreign investments, trade, services and labor into the region. These changes in national laws have worsened violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to lands, territories and water. The growing incorporation of Asia into the global free-trade market has worsened the poverty and marginalization of Indigenous Peoples of Asia and the non-recognition and violation of their rights. Common problems regarding the violation of the Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) as well as the continuing nonimplementation of project agreements and benefits continue to worsen. There is no Indigenous Peoples’ consent to and involvement in the design and decision-making processes, and neither is there transparency in the said processes and in funding. Asian States and governments respond to protests largely with violence – arrests, threats, harassments and militarization of indigenous communities.

Asian economies have pursued trade and investment liberalization in accordance with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)- World Trade Organization (WTO). Economies of East Asia, in particular, are also subject to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The APEC remains important for governments and States of East Asia and most important for the US, as it is the only multilateral economic forum that links the US with the region. However, even before the GATT-WTO, Asian economies have already been carrying out the liberalization, privatization and deregulation of their respective economies as part of conditions, including Structural Adjustment Programs, imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for the release of loans or debt reductions.

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