Villagers in Laos displaced by the Don Sahong Dam under construction near the border with Cambodia are still going without jobs and income three years into the project despite promises from the government to help them.
Construction on the Mekong river dam, backed by a Malaysian developer in cooperation with the Lao government, began in January 2016, but the resettled villagers are still barely getting by with very little help from the government or the private sector, sources say.
Rather than providing them with money for support, the government has instead attempted to compensate the villagers with livestock.
“There are no jobs and we have no income,” said one of the villagers in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
“The chickens they gave us to raise all died, because there was no attempt to vaccinate them when they got sick. All the villagers are still waiting for the government to do something to help us,” the villager said.
An official from the department of agriculture and fisheries said that villagers were reluctant to accept animals as compensation.
“The government gave them piglets to raise, but the villagers complained of the smell,” said the official.
“They said pigs were hard to care for. We have tried to find other ways to help them,” the official said.
The official said that the company building the dam came to talk to the villagers, trying to suggest other types of animals they could raise, but the villagers aren’t interested in raising animals, but in catching fish out of the water.
Because of the dam project, the villagers are no longer allowed to fish in the areas close to the dam, where they enjoyed large catches previously.
While the government and developers at least acknowledge the economic hardship that displaced villagers experience, conservation groups are urging authorities to consider the environmental consequences of the Don Sahong dam and other projects like it.
They say that there has been inadequate effort to release information to the public about Don Sahong and Northern Laos’ Xayaburi dam project.
In an April press release, the Oakland-based environmental NGO International Rivers pleaded with leaders to stop any new projects on the Mekong as they prepared to come together for the 3rd Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit.
Prior to the event the MRC Council released a study showing that dam projects could cause serious damage to the local environment.
“We call on the leaders of the lower Mekong governments to recognize the important findings and recommendations of the Council study and to urge a moratorium on further hydropower construction within the Mekong Basin until a regional study of renewable energy technologies and alternatives is completed,” said the NGO in the release.
Conservation groups have also urged the government to postpone construction of Don Sahong specifically because it will block migratory fish routes, destroy endangered ecosystems, and threaten nutrition and livelihoods across regional boundaries.
“NGOs have expressed concern over the Don Sahong dam construction,” said Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network in Cambodia. He added that NGOs would continue to advocate against the dam construction.
The project also critically infringes on the habitat of an endangered species, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
"The Don Sahong Dam is an ecological time bomb that threatens the food security of millions and a population of critically endangered Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins. The dam will have negative impacts on the entire Mekong River ecosystem all the way to the Delta in Vietnam," the WWF said in a 2015 statement.
Reported and Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.