Nearly one year after the collapse of a saddle dam that caused a disaster described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades, struggling survivors are reluctantly accepting compensation for about 50 percent of their total property losses.
The disaster occurred on July 23, 2018, when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Champassak and Attapeu provinces, leaving many more missing.
Some of the victims are still holding out, saying that the compensation proposals they have been presented with are not enough.
A survivor who lives in a temporary village called Mai in Attapeu’s Sanamxay district said in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service described being presented with a document by the authorities.
“I did not sign [the document]. Our family didn’t agree with many issues. The information and the details of loss were not clear, and the document had very unclear terms,” said the survivor, who declined to have his name published to avoid difficulties with authorities.
“They took members of some organizations and other agencies to look at the damage [to my property.] Then they crossed out many of the items [I need replaced.] When they asked me to sign the paper, I saw the amount offered. It was unreasonable,” the survivor said.
Another survivor, currently living in Sanamxay district’s Hin Lat village was also dismayed by the amount being offered by the authorities.
“In our family we had a [car and motorcycle] repair shop that had everything. But they’re offering only $3,500. Surely the value of our property is more than $3,500,” the Hin Lat resident said.
But even if the survivors agree to take the paltry compensation package there still is not any indication of when they will receive the funds they desperately need.
“[The authorities] had me sign to accept 50 percent [of the total loss], but they didn’t say when exactly the money will be paid. The payment will not be coming soon,” said the Hin Lat source.
Sanamxay District Governor Bounhome Phommasane said that the responsibility for compensation lies with the developer.
“Right now we’re working on it. There’s no problem. We’re only taking the time to ensure we take a detailed approach to the paperwork, especially the paperwork regarding the payment to each family,” he said.
“The project developer is going to make direct deposits into their accounts. It won’t go through the state,” said the governor, adding, “We have a lot of families to deal with, five villages [or about 6,000 people] in total.
The governor also indicated that the 50 percent figure was only the beginning of the compensation package, and that the survivors would be entitled to more.
“So first of all the bank will open the accounts for each family, and then the company, along with the state will work with the families and have the families sign the documents to accept the first 50 percent of compensation,” he said.
For the other half, the authorities have also allocated land plots of 20 by 40 meters for each family. They also have distributed equipment to cultivate land that had previously been cleared for them.
Villagers say that the cleared land is infertile; it is gravelly and nothing can be grown on it.
But the Sanamxay District governor said today that the cleared land was for a ‘commercial plantation’ not for the victims to farm for themselves.
A private company is now in the process of discussing with the authorities and the victims on what should be planted on that 2,000 hectare cleared land, he added.
Reported and Translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.