BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Asia-Pacific nations are speeding up project approvals and removing environmental protections to spur economic growth dented by the coronavirus, moves that will hurt rural and indigenous communities, analysts say.

Indonesia has issued a law that makes it easier to take over community land, including those of indigenous groups, and for forests to be cleared for industry.

India has opened coal mining to the private sector in forest land, while a new environment impact assessment (EIA) notification allows speedier project approvals and less compliance.

Australia will fast-track approval for roads and other projects including the expansion of BHP Group’s Olympic Dam, while the Cook Islands will grant seabed mining licenses to bolster its tourism-dependent economy. But besides addressing jobs and infrastructure issues, stimulus projects must deliver “broad, long-term community value, reduce inequality and help counter climate change,” said Elizabeth Mossop, a dean at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“It is not clear that fast-tracking actually saves time in the long run, and there is little evidence that it provides us with good outcomes,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The risks are that these projects benefit large corporations, rather than communities, rural areas, women and people who most need jobs,” she said.

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