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Lao Villagers Displaced by Dam Are Left Without Farms, Money For New Land

2020-08-18 -- More than 80 families affected by dam construction in northern Laos have lost farmland and orchards to rising water but remain stranded in their former homes, saying that compensation paid to them for their losses is too small to help them buy new land.

Displaced by work on the Nam Hung 1 Dam in the northwestern province of Xayaburi, the 87 families living in Houeikeng and Pak Hung villages have so far received only a part of what their land was worth, one villager told RFA's Lao Service on Aug. 17.

"The compensation we've been given isn't enough for us to use to buy new land," RFA's source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's much too low."

"On average, we received only 10,000 kip [U.S. $1.10] per square meter, though we asked for between 30,000 kip [U.S. $3.30] and 50,000 kip [U.S. $5.50] per square meter–an amount three to five times greater than what we received."

After a delay caused by a pause in work on the dam from 2017-2018, the affected families were finally paid promised compensation on July 18, the villager said, adding, "We were given money only for our land, though, and not for the fruit trees that we had."

"We should have been compensated for the loss of these also," he said.

Before work began on the Nam Hung 1 Dam, the villager said, he grew teak, eucalyptus, mango, longan, and rice on the land that he owned.

"But our land is submerged in the dam reservoir now," he said. "Our losses are too great."

One landowner in Pak Hung meanwhile said that she has not yet been paid anything at all for her three-hectare plot of land, for which she held a valid title and regularly paid property tax.

"At first, my land was shown on the list [of landowners to be compensated], but later it was taken off the list without any explanation," she said.

"My land was also located right in front of the dam, but I haven't been paid anything for it yet," she said, adding that she is now speaking with officials in the Xayaburi Municipality about writing a letter to provincial authorities to ask for compensation.

The other landowners are also consulting with municipal authorities about writing a letter demanding more money, sources said.

'That's government policy'

"The landowners have now received all the money they're going to get," an official at the Xayaburi Municipality Department of Energy and Mines told RFA. "We assessed the value of the land according to the rates set by the government."

"Of course it's low. Compensation paid by the state is always lower than what is paid by a private project," he said, adding that the 87 affected families have now received a total of 3,400,000,000 kip ($370,000) for 132 hectares of land.

An official at the provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department said that the Energy and Mines Department, using funds provided by dam developer The Simuang Group, should have given the affected families not just money for their losses, but new land of equal or greater value and a way to farm new land or raise poultry and cattle.

"That's the government's policy," he said.

Reached for comment, officials at the Nam Hung 1 Dam Power Company were unable to explain why at least one family in the affected villages was refused compensation or why the amounts offered to the other families were so low.

Construction on the U.S. $34 million, 15-megawatt Nam Hung 1 Dam began in 2017 but was delayed for a year due to the discovery of substandard work on the project, and resumed in 2018.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, with ultimate plans to build scores more under a plan to become the "Battery of Southeast Asia" to export the electricity they generate to other countries in the region.

Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country's economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers without adequate compensation, and questionable financial and power demand arrangements.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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