Two Years Later, 60 Families in Laos Still Waiting for Compensation for Dam Collapse

laos-nam-ao-dam-flood-xieng-kouang-province-sept11-2017.jpg Lao workers run from floodwaters after the reservoir of the Nam Ao River Dam burst its banks in Phaxay district, northeastern Laos’ Xieng Khouang province, Sept. 11, 2017.
Screenshot from video courtesy of Keobouasone Hamaphasouk

Sixty families in Laos who were affected by the collapse of a small hydroelectric dam two years ago may finally learn when they can expect cash compensation now that a central-government-backed investigation into the damages is complete.

The villagers, from Xaysomboun province’s Thathom district, have been made to wait because even after a lengthy first investigation into the extent of damage, the Nam Ao dam’s developer, Bothong Inter Group, claimed that the villagers’ compensation claims were exaggerated and could not come to an agreement with them.

The central government then forced the second investigation that lasted until last month.

“The investigation is now complete and all the information about the damages has been compiled and reported to the central committee,” said an official from Thathom district in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service on Monday.

“The committee will summon the company and the two parties [the government and the company] will sign an agreement on final compensation,” the official said, adding that the compensation might be paid out by the end of this year or early next.

The Nam Ao dam, located in Xieng Khouang province’s Phaxay district, burst on September 11, 2017 after heavy rains. The flood had serious consequences for the Thathom district villagers; farmers in eight villages found their rice fields covered in mud, with the newly planted crop destroyed.

There was also damage to some homes and irrigation systems as well.

A member of an affected family said three days after the mishap, “Our house was covered with mud 40 centimeters high. Our rice field and motorcycle were damaged.”

Immediately after the dam collapse, Bothong Inter said that the company would be responsible for all damages. Bothong Inter’s president, Chanthong Xanavanh, told local media that the company planned to inspect the damage and pay out compensation to the affected families.

In October 2017, the results of the first investigation, jointly conducted by the company and local village authorities, found the flood caused about $1.2 million in damages, affecting 91 families.

The company then began distributing rice to the affected families and repairing the irrigation systems, at a cost of about $26,000.

In November 2017 the company began cleanup of the rice fields, using bulldozers and tractors to remove the mud. According to a Thathom district official, the company said that the affected families would have to wait for financial compensation. The dam was repaired in February 2018.

The cleanup was completed in May 2018, but some of the farmers complained that their rice fields were not totally clear of mud, and due to a change in the quality of the soil, they would have to switch to corn or cassava instead of rice.

It was at this point that a split occurred between the affected families. While 31 said they were happy with just the rice compensation, 60 families began demanding cash and more rice from Bothong Inter.

In September of 2018, one year after the disaster, a different Thathom district official said the company still had not paid any cash in compensation because the company said the villagers were overstating the extent of the damage.

“The company had also conducted its own inspection and found out that the damages claimed by the affected families did not correspond to the actual damages,” the first official said.

The disagreement continued through the end of 2018, when Laos’ central government stepped in and set up the committee for the second investigation, this time including officials from the energy and mines ministry.

“It has been one year and three months since the incident and we’re still waiting for compensation; many of us are not happy,” a villager told RFA that same month.

“Most of us need cash compensation,” said another villager in February.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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