Families that were uprooted in to make way for the Xe La Nong 1 dam in southern Laos’ Savannakhet province are still facing difficulties despite close to nine months passing since relocating to a new village, they told RFA.
Construction of the 70 megawatt Xe La Nong 1 dam began in 2017 and it is set to be completed in 2021. The 88 families were moved to a new village last June.
A villager who was relocated told RFA’s Lao Service that the group has yet to receive any kind of compensation from the Chinese developer, despite being promised 40 million kip (U.S. $320) for each hectare (2.47 acres) of land that they lost to the project.
Making matters worse, the villager said, the new village has no nearby arable land. The tract they were given to grow food on is mountainous and unsuitable for rice and other crops, on top of not being cleared.
With no land to farm and no alternative jobs for them, the 88 families haven’t had any income since moving and are struggling, the villager said.
The new village that was built for the families remains unfinished. Some houses have no walls, there is no running waters or toilets, and the village has no school or health center, the villager added.
Villagers also complained about the infrastructure in their resettlement village. A road that was built for their use was damaged during the rainy season and was covered with mud. In the dry season the mud turned to dust, making some parts of the road impassable.
Satellite imagery shows how the dam construction has radically changed the local environment. This short video compares the site of the Xe La Nong 1 Dam site between October 2016, before construction began, and February 2020 with construction nearly complete.
Reports about the hardships of relocated villagers are common in Laos, which is undertaking a massive buildout of hydropower projects in its rush to become the “battery of Southeast Asia.” For almost every project, people living nearby must be relocated in order for construction to proceed.
The lack of adequate compensation or suitable living arrangements are common complaints of the people forced to relocate.
An official involved in the project told RFA that the villagers have to wait until the dam developer’s owner returns Laos from China.
According to the official, the owner is unable to travel due to the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic, but has not reneged on the company’s promise to pay. On his return to Laos will discuss the matter with the villagers, he added.
“We don’t have a concrete plan to help the people as they are demanding,” the official said.
“We can only listen to their problems and concerns and relay them to the dam’s owner, so he can help them as quickly as possible.”
The Ma Xe La Nong 1 dam project has four investment partners, the largest of which is YEIG International Development of China, which owns a 70 percent share of the $150 million project. The power produced from the dam is intended for domestic consumption.
Reported and Translated by RFA’s Lao service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.