More than 100 families of villagers displaced by a proposed dam in Laos have yet to receive the farmland they were promised as compensation by authorities, according to the villagers who say they now lack enough food to meet basic daily needs after government aid has run out.
The 129 families relocated to two new villages in Sekong province’s Kaleum district due to preparation for the Sekong 4 dam said that a six-month government assistance program providing them foodstuffs, mostly rice, ended on Aug. 31.
“Life for the residents of Had Vee and Tra villages is difficult in regard to food because there is not enough,” one of the villagers told RFA’s Lao Service said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They have appealed for help from the province and district—especially for rice.”
The villager said that the relocated families had been forced to clear a small amount of local land for farming while awaiting plots promised by the government as part of compensation for leaving their villages in February, but added that it was “far from adequate” for planting crops to meet daily needs.
The 129 families are among nearly 4,500 residents displaced from 18 villages in Kaleum district by the Sekong 4 and had been relocated with the promise of farming plots and six months of government food assistance.
Another villager told RFA that the families never received any of the land they were promised and that even when they were provided with food through the government assistance program, it was inconsistent at best.
The villager said that residents were given rice depending on the size of the family receiving it, but that amounts varied in how often they were provided.
Government officials told RFA that they were aware of the current food problems the villagers were facing and are “trying to find solutions,” with priority given to finding the villagers farmland.
The Sekong 4, with a capacity of 300 to 600 megawatts, is one of three hydropower dams on Mekong River tributaries to be built as part of an eight-year-old U.S. $1.5 billion deal with Russian investor Regional Oil.
Land for the dam has been cleared, though construction is yet to begin on the project.
The three dam projects, which also include the Sekong 5 and Nam Kong 1, are set to be completed by 2014 and will displace a total of more than 7,000 villagers from their homes in Sekong and Attapeu provinces.
The dams have a total combined capacity of 822 megawatts, and most of the power generated will be exported to Thailand with the rest reserved for local use.
Global green group International Rivers has said the effects of the two Sekong dams will be felt as far as the mainstream Mekong in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
It also predicts the Sekong 4, the largest of the three, will cause a sharp decline in fisheries that will significantly affect local livelihoods.
Resource-starved Laos is aiming to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia by selling hydroelectric power to its neighbors.
But it has come under fire for plowing ahead on the Xayaburi dam, the first dam across the main stem of the Mekong River, without first getting regional consensus from downstream neighbors concerned about the project’s transboundary impact.
Laos has a total of over 70 dams under construction or in the planning or consideration stages, many of them on waters flowing into the Mekong, a key regional artery.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.