Hundreds of Lao families displaced by Chinese-backed dam projects and now living in resettlement villages are facing hardships due to poor housing and a lack of work, with many still waiting for compensation promised for fields and orchards lost when they were forced to move, sources say.
Three dams have now been built by China’s Sinohydro Corporation on the Nam Ou river, which runs through Luang Prabang and Phongsaly provinces in the northern part of Laos, with four more scheduled for completion this year.
Speaking on Dec. 31 to RFA’s Lao Service, a member of the Nam Ou 1 Dam Resettlement Village management team said that compensation offered to the 134 families moved there from villages in the province’s Pak Ou district has not covered villagers’ losses.
“The compensation is not appropriate,” the village official said. “The villagers have been compensated for their trees, gardens, and rice fields, but the amounts are too low.”
“Some villagers have accepted the offered compensation, but many others like myself have not,” he said.
For example, authorities have paid out only U.S. $0.60 to $1.20 for teak trees, which take at least 10 years to grow and are worth ten times that amount, he said, while in another case, a family of three that had lived in a large house was moved to a house too small for their needs.
Also speaking to RFA, a resident of the Nam Ou 3 Dam Resettlement Village said that villagers displaced by work on the dam had previously had land to grow rice. “But now, at this new village, we have no land to grow anything, and we just stay at home doing nothing,” he said.
“Many families are having trouble making a living,” he added.
Beginning last year, several hundred families were moved from five villages in Luang Prabang’s Ngoy district to make way for the dam, the villager said, adding that at least 60 residents have not yet been paid by Sinohydro affiliates Sengchanh Company and Houanghuang Company for clean-up work they did on the dam’s reservoir from October to December.
Villagers in urgent need
All residents now suffer from a lack of clean water, he said. And authorities and the dam’s developer have ignored a request villagers made before they were moved for a Buddhist temple to be built for them at the resettlement site.
Meanwhile, a new village built on a hillside for 297 families moved from five villages to make way for construction of the Nam Our 4 Dam in Phongsaly province’s Khoua district has been threatened with collapse due to landslides, a village official said.
Living conditions at the resettlement site should be improved quickly, the official said, speaking to RFA on Jan. 2.
“We don’t have enough land to grow rice. We only have gardens, and now the weather is so hot and dry that nothing can grow,” he said, adding, “Our villagers have no other way to make a living, and we have no money to buy food.”
Speaking to RFA, a representative of the Nam Ou 4 Dam Consortium, a Sinohydro affiliate, said that all villagers moved from the dam site have already been paid according to agreed-upon terms. “If the villagers aren’t happy with their compensation, they should look at their agreements,” he said.
Also in Phongsaly, more than 200 families moved to the Nam Ou 7 Resettlement Village from four villages in the province’s Ghot-Ou district are still waiting for compensation for their lost land and property, one local resident said.
“We haven’t received any compensation for our land. The authorities said that we had no titles for the land and hadn’t paid property taxes, so they paid us only for our fruit trees and vegetables,” he said.
Work moves ahead
The four dams still to be finished are now about 90 percent complete, with Lao and Chinese officials performing a ceremony in Luang Prabang City on Dec. 26 to mark the testing of each dam’s generator, Chinese media sources said.
Generator tests have meanwhile closed gates holding back water at the Nam Ou 4 Dam, flooding gardens and farms near villagers’ former homes, one resettled villager told RFA on Jan. 6, adding that about 20 families have been affected.
Electricity generated by the Nam Ou dams will be used to power factories in northern Laos and southern China and Chinese trains on a rail line now under construction, Lao Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told RFA in a recent interview.
Impoverished and underdeveloped Laos is undertaking a massive buildout of hydropower projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in its rush to become the “battery of Southeast Asia.” But in the process it is becoming ever more financially indebted to China by accepting more and more loans to build the projects.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary: Written in English by Richard Finney.