An estimated 125 families from seven villages in Vienthong district of central Laos’ Bolikhamxay province, who would be displaced after construction of a new dam are refusing to accept compensation from the developer, saying what they have been offered is not enough.
Construction on the Nam Theun 1 hydroelectric dam began in 2016 and so far about 40 percent of it has been completed. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2022.
The developer has plans to relocate a total of 624 families by November this year. They are scattered about the proposed flood zone in Ban Thadeua, Ban Phiengton, Ban Sombath, Ban Kokton, Ban Vangmark, Ban Nammeut and Ban Phonhong villages.
The Nam Theun 1 Power Group, which has private and public backing from both Laos and Thailand, offered payments to villagers to vacate their land.
“Most villagers have already accepted the offer except a small number of them, maybe 120 households or so, perhaps 20 percent,” said an official from a village administration authority in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday.
The official said that the developer had offered each family $8,000 per hectare but the villagers are demanding between $10,000 and $14,000.
An official from the energy and mines department of Bolikhamxay told RFA “It’s not possible [to offer them more] because the amount they were offered is in compliance with provincial policy.”
“They all signed contracts determining the [amount] of payment. Under that contract, most people have accepted the offer, but only 20 percent are opposed,” said the energy official.
Hydroelectric dam projects disrupting the lives of rural villagers is not a unique issue in Laos. Villagers from 132 families in Phongsaly province’s Khoua district are demanding that the developer of the nearby Nam Ou 5 dam build them a new temple because the old on had to be demolished last year for the dam project.
“There’s no more place to worship or reflect on our merits. The Nam Ou dam project demolished it,” said the chief of one of the villages, adding, “Before there was a Buddhist temple by the road in the village. Now it’s gone.”
The chief lamented that even the local government was unhelpful in their efforts to replace the temple.
“We don’t even have land for a new temple,” he said.
“That part of land now belongs to the project. Right now we don’t know what to do, and we’ve made a request to the district’s office but they’ve refused to help us,” said the chief.
Many villagers say they need the new temple soon so that they can properly celebrate Pi Mai (Lao New Year) next month.
The chief noted that none of the 132 families are being relocated for the Nam Ou 5 dam project, but the temple had to be demolished because a road to the construction site had to go through the land it was sitting on.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.