Lao local government clears land for families displaced by dam

The Luang Prabang project is pushing more than 500 families from their homes.
2022.01.20
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Lao local government clears land for families displaced by dam This file photo taken in December 2021 shows the progress of the construction of a bridge over Mekong River in Chomphet District, Luang Prabang Province on the future site of the Luang Prabang Dam.
Photo: RFA

Authorities in Laos are surveying land to offer to more than 500 families that will be displaced by the Luang Prabang Dam on the Mekong River.

The dam in northern Laos will be one of several cascading dams built on the Mekong, as the government pursues its controversial economic plan to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” through the sale of excess electricity to neighboring countries.

“We may have enough land for the construction of the two resettlement villages, but we don’t have enough land for farming,” an official of the Natural Resources and Environment Department of Luang Prabang Province told RFA’s Lao Service Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The two villages are meant to hold 581 families that will need to relocate for construction. Many of these people are farmers and therefore need plots of arable land to continue to work.

“Each family may only get 0.7 hectares [1.7 acres] of farmland, not the full hectare [2.5 acres] they are demanding,” the official said.

“We are unsure as to when we’ll be able to clear the farmland for the villagers because the government has not informed us as to when construction on the dam will begin. They have, however, confirmed to us that it will certainly be built,” he said.

As for the resettlement villages, the official said that the local government has identified two lots not far from the villagers’ current homes.

“They are large enough for two new villages, but these lots also have not yet been cleared,” the official said.

Villagers are reluctant to accept the land that the province is offering, a resident of the province’s Chomphet district told RFA.

“It’s not large enough for us to grow bananas and papayas, nor is it enough to raise chickens, pigs, cows or buffalo. Actually, they told us not to raise cows and buffalo because the land is too small. The authorities came by earlier to show us the two proposed lots for our new villages. They have already taken us there three times,” said the Chomphet resident, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Another Chomphet resident told RFA that accepting the province’s proposal would leave displaced residents less well-off.

“We’ll be much poorer because most of us are farmers living off the land. With such small farms, we’ll have less food and less income,” the second Chomphet resident said under condition of anonymity.

A villager who will be affected by the construction and also declined to be named said that the authorities should reexamine their compensation package.

“It has to be fair to all the families. Some households are big, and they have big houses and many family members. They should be compensated accordingly,” the villager said.

“What they are offering is too low. For the farmland, we’re only getting 100 million kip [U.S. $8,900] per hectare. We are asking for more.”

Construction Delays

Construction on the dam itself has been suspended as the developer continues work on a bridge that crosses the river, an official of the Energy and Mines Department of Luang Prabang Province told RFA, under condition of anonymity.

The $3 billion, 1,460-megawatt dam will affect about 10,000 people, including the 581 households that will be displaced. Another 692 households will lose their farmland but not their homes, while 671 more will lose part of their farmland. There are also 189 families that live downstream from the dam and will be affected by lower water levels.

Construction was planned to start in 2020 and finish in 2027, but the developer is assessing how the dam will affect nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sites, specifically the scenic town of Luang Prabang.

The project is financed by the Luang Prabang Power Company, a consortium of Thai and Vietnamese power companies and the Lao government. Power purchase agreements for the sale of electricity to Thailand and Vietnam have not yet been signed.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries in pursuit of its controversial economic plans.

Though the Lao government sees power generation as a means to boost the country’s economy, the projects have faced criticism because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers and questionable financial arrangements.

Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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