Scores of Lao Families Facing Displacement by Dam Project Await Compensatory Land Titles

Meanwhile, others who relocated two years ago say they have yet to receive promised vocational training.

The Nam-Ou Dam 1 construction site Luang Prabang's in Ngoy district, May 2018.

Scores of families that will be displaced by dam construction in Laos are waiting for the Chinese developer to pay the fees necessary to relocate them, while another group of villagers already relocated by the project say they have yet to receive vocational training they were promised as part of their move.

More than 70 families from the villages of Pakcheak and Hatsoua, in Luang Prabang province’s Ngoy district, have been ordered to make way for Nam-Ou Dam 1—one of a series of planned dams that make up the second phase of construction for a U.S. $2.8 billion project overseen by Chinese developer Sinohydro.

The project is being built along the Nam-Ou River in Luang Prabang and neighboring Phongsaly provinces and will consist of seven dams when completed in 2020, with an estimated capacity of 1,156 megawatts and an annual energy output of 5,017 gigawatt hours.

Dams 2, 5, and 6 were completed as part of the first phase of the project, and the first unit began generating electricity in November 2015.

A representative of the families who will be relocated by Dam 1 recently told RFA’s Lao Service that while other villagers relocated by the project have been given land parcels of 300 square meters (3,230 square feet), the residents of Pakcheak and Hatsoua have yet to receive anything.

“If the Chinese [company] pays the relevant fees, officials from the Ministry Of Natural Resources and Environment will allocate the land to each family,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The plots of land has been marked and prepared for each family, and the titles will be issued [upon receipt of the fees].”

An official with the Ministry Of Natural Resources and Environment confirmed that the land was ready to be distributed to the villagers.

“The land has been surveyed and prepared for allocation to the villagers, if the dam firm pays the associated fees,” said the official, who also asked to remain unnamed, adding that “only two villages have not been given the titles.”

“We have already discussed the plan with the village headmen and we are only waiting for payment from the firm, because we have already received approval from provincial authorities.”

According to the official, Sinohydro is “confused” by the fees it is being charged at the provincial and district levels for state survey work.

Since 2017, Sinohydro has facilitated the issuance of 200 permanent land titles to villagers displaced by its project.

Concerns over land allocation came as more than 100 families in Phongsaly’s Tatou village who will be displaced by Nam-Ou Dam 7 have said they will not leave the area unless they are allocated new land and compensated for the loss of their existing crops.

A local official told RFA that Tatou was the only village that had yet to relocate from the area to make way for the dam’s construction.

“The villagers have not received compensation and they want to be clear about how much they will receive,” he said.

Vocational training

Meanwhile, 174 families in Luang Prabang’s Pak-Ou district told RFA they are waiting to receive vocational training they were promised by Sinohydro two years after being relocated for construction of the Nam-Ou Dam 2, which was completed last year.

Without training for new jobs in the area they were resettled to, the families have been forced to return to their former villages of Hattha and Hatyib to cultivate crops there, an official from Pak-Ou said.

“It is good that villagers have been resettled to the new areas, but they have no way to earn a living,” the official said.

“These days, they still drive vehicles 10 kilometers (six miles) to farm the crops on their former lands, while some of them have to walk three or four hours to get there … Newly resettled villagers often find it difficult to live, because they aren’t trained in a vocation and do not know what to do [outside of farming].”

Environmental watchdog International Rivers has previously reported on what it called “the poor state of community relations and the progress of involuntary resettlement” associated with Sinohydro’s Nam-Ou dam project, particularly with Nam-Ou Dam 2.

After conducting interviews with communities in the area of the project, the group found that residents were not informed or able to access information about the dam’s impacts, resettlement plans or livelihood restoration programs, and that within the communities facing resettlement, there was significant confusion about compensation measures.

International Rivers said that compensation remained outstanding even after Sinohydro had taken possession of land and assets required for construction, and that consultation with local people was “non-existent,” with all communication between the company and local authorities limited to the village chief.

More recently, the group said that 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 RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.