Around 1,400 people in Laos are finding it difficult to support themselves three months after relocating for a local dam construction project. Some even return to their old villages to tend rice fields during the country’s planting season.
The Chinese-backed Nam Ou 4 dam is one of seven dams planned for the Nam Ou River, which traverses Phongsaly and Luangprabang provinces in northern Laos.
The 1,400, from 297 separate households spread over five villages in Phongsaly province’s Khoua district, moved into a resettlement village on March 14, 2019.
Each family was given a small concrete house. The new village came equipped with an unpaved road, a health center, a primary school, running water and electricity.
In addition, the villagers got between $350 and $600 per family for their property losses. They were also provided with a year’s supply of rice and canned fish.
But those resettled say that the relocation has robbed them of their ability to be self-sufficient.
“Right now, almost all of the villagers don’t have jobs. [The dam developer] hasn’t made any arrangement for us,” said a resident of the resettlement village in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
“We’re staying home and doing nothing and we want them to help us as soon as possible. We are poor and we have no means of supporting ourselves,” said the resident.
The vice chief of the resettlement village said that while the displaced villagers were provided with shelter, they were not provided with a means of producing their own food or getting income to buy it.
“[They] were only given new concrete houses, but no land to cultivate,” the chief said, adding, “Many of the villagers go to forage for food in the forest and some even return to the land in their old villages so they can grow rice.”
July is in the middle of Laos’ rainy season, considered the perfect time to plant rice. The vice chief said that it takes farmers several hours to travel to their old fields, which are three to five kilometers away.
Government to the rescue?
A local government official said that the compensation process is ongoing and that current difficulties faced by the relocated villagers should be temporary.
“It’s not done yet. We haven’t made any arrangements for them, but we are planning to [make efforts to] improve their living conditions soon,” said the Khoua district official.
The official acknowledged that there is no cultivable land in the area, but said the construction project would provide the villagers with a means of supporting themselves.
“We’re going to create some kind of jobs for them. Right now, we’re collecting information on who [among the resettled villagers] knows how to raise fish, chicken or pigs,” the official said.
According to the resettlement village’s vice chief, the Nam Ou 4 dam project also affects six other villages, but residents of those villages didn’t need to relocate. The project encroaches only partially on their land.
China Power Company began the construction of the Nam Ou 4 dam in 2016 and is scheduled to complete it in October 2020.
According to International Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, 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 and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.