Lao Villagers Displaced by Dam Project Fear Landslides in New Village

Lao villagers displaced by construction of the Nam Ou 3 dam in Luang Prabang are petitioning authorities for help to guard against landslides in their resettlement village, which is built on the edge of a steep hillside overlooking the Nam Ou river, a tributary of the Mekong, sources in the country say.

House foundations and roads in Sobkhing village in Luang Prabang province’s Ngoy district are already cracking, leaving at least one dwelling close to collapse following recent heavy rains, residents of the resettlement site told RFA’s Lao Service this week.

“Yes, we are very afraid of landslides because our houses were built at the edge of a high cliff,” one villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Cracks are showing, and one power pole has already been damaged.”

One house built at the very edge of the mountain had already almost collapsed in an area weakened by storms, a second Sobkhing villager said, adding that villagers’ requests to authorities over a two-month period for help had gone unanswered.

“We notified the authorities, but nothing was done. There is a risk to people’s lives if it collapses,” he said.

Reached for comment, an official from the Ngoy district office said that they had not been notified of any problems at Sobkhing, while an official in the local department of natural resources and environmental protection said that villagers should send a letter to provincial authorities, who would then come to investigate.

“They should send a letter right away to the department, directed to the department head. They will discuss this together within the department and then go down to look into it, but I can’t predict what day they will come,” he said.

‘Trouble making a living’

Electricity generated by a string of seven dams built by China’s Sinohydro Corporation on the Nam Ou river will be used to power factories in northern Laos and southern China, along with Chinese trains on a major rail line now under construction, with construction forcing at least 12,000 people in 10 districts in Luang Prabang and Phongsaly provinces to move from their homes.

Villagers moved from the sites of other Nam Ou dams have also have also complained of settlements built on high and unstable ground and of insufficient resources allowed to them to rebuild their lives. Many are still waiting for compensation promised for fields and orchards lost when they were forced to move.

“Many families are having trouble making a living,” a resident of the Nam Ou 3 dam’s Sobkhing resettlement village told RFA in an earlier report, saying that villagers displaced by work on the dam had previously had land on which 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.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, with ultimate plans for about scores more hoping to export the electricity they generate to other countries in the region, under an ambitious goal to be the “Battery of Asia.”

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 Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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