Residents of three villages in southern Laos are facing forced removal from their homes by the end of March if they fail to move from the sites of planned dams to an area they are calling unsuitable for farming, sources in the Southeast Asian country say.
Over 100 families in Champasak province’s Xe-Namnoy, Houaysoy, and Namleng villages have been told to leave to make way for construction of two dams—the Xe-Pian and Xe-Namnoy—being built along the Mekong River.
Only about 20 families have moved to an assigned relocation site at Rasasinh, about 10 km. (6.2 miles) away, though, while over 80 others are now building houses without permission in an area closer to their original homes, one villager told RFA’s Lao Service.
“We do not want to move to the area provided by the government and project developer,” RFA’s source said, adding, “The villagers are preparing to build new houses by themselves around an area beside the project.”
“The area provided by the government is not suitable for farming,” the source added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Many villagers who had previously accepted government-assigned plots at Rasasinh have already moved away, the source said.
“We can’t grow anything there, not even cucumbers. We will be poor if we continue to live there,” he said.
Villagers are also unhappy with the rates of compensation offered by the government for their land, another source said.
“What has been offered is too little compared to the value of their crops and the fruit trees they will lose to the hydropower projects,” the source said. “They cannot use this money to buy enough land to continue to live.”
“The villagers have asked the relevant authorities for compensation at least equal to the amount they will lose,” he said.
Requests for more money have been rejected out of hand, though, with police and soldiers threatening villagers who refuse to move, sources say.
Reached by RFA by telephone on March 27, officials in Champasak’s Paksong district, in which the villages are located, refused to comment on the case.
Laos and many other Asian countries are on a dam-building spree as they try to harness the power of the Mekong and other rivers.
While the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are still controversial for their environmental impacts and financial arrangements.
According to International Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, the current Lao hydropower development plan includes 72 new large dams, 12 of which are under construction and nearly 25 in advanced planning stages.
The Lao government says the dams will help pay for anti-poverty and other social welfare programs, but International Rivers asserts that much of the power generated by Laos is sold to neighboring countries and then resold to Laos at higher rates.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh and Lanxang for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Lanxang. Written in English by Richard Finney.