Nearly two years after the worst dam collapse in Laos in decades, survivors whose villages were washed away are finally being offered land in compensation, district-level authorities in the province told RFA Lao Service.
On July 23, 2018, water surged over a saddle dam in Attapeu province’s Sanamxay district at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Attapeu and neighboring Champassak province.
Sanamxay authorities have begun allocating land to survivors of the collapse. The total compensation to about 1,270 families amounts to 2,140 hectares (8.26 square miles) of cleared land, which they can use to grow rice, just as the rainy season approaches.
“[Authorities] have cleared and improved the land and will give it to [the survivors]”, an official of the district told RFA’s Lao Service Monday.
“If a family has two working members, that family will get one hectare (2.47 acres) of land, whereas a family of three or four will get two hectares and so on. However a family consisting of only one person will get nothing. That person must join another family,” the official said.
The official added that in addition to new land, the authorities will improve the soil condition of the villagers’ former farms that were mud-covered or damaged by the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoi dam collapse, then allow the victims to go back to their old villages and plant rice on their old land.
“My family has three working members, so we’ll receive two hectares of land. Other families that have five members will get three hectares,” a survivor of the collapse and flood told RFA.
“We in this village haven’t received rice seedlings yet. So far only two villages have. Besides the seedlings, we also need shovels and other tools for rice cultivation”
Another survivor had doubts about the plan.
“Growing rice may not be fruitful. I’m afraid [the land they cleared] will be flooded because this area is flooded every year,” the second survivor told RFA.
Stable by 2023
“This is a pilot project. We’ll plow the land then [the survivors] will sow rice seedlings. Some areas are good and fertile, so rice will grow,” an official of the Attapeu Province Agriculture and Forestry Department told RFA.
This official said that government has plans to improve the survivors’ living conditions to a normal or stable level by around 2023. The plans include building permanent homes, roads and other infrastructure, allocating land and paying the promised compensation to all remaining survivors.
On July 23, 2019, the first anniversary of the dam collapse, Attapeu Governor Leth Xayaphone detailed the extent of the damage at a local news conference.
“[As a result of the collapse], water damaged homes and property in a total of 19 villages, affecting 3,540 families or 14,440 people. Total losses include a death toll of 71 and [U.S.] $15 million in damages,” the governor said at the press conference.
He added that more than 4,400 were at that time living in shelters in temporary relocation centers, while over 10,000 had returned to their homes.
RFA reported in late April that conditions in the relocation centers had deteriorated, causing many to abandon the shelters, paying out of pocket to build new homes. Those who remained in the centers described unsanitary conditions like overflowing latrines and spoiled food coupled with shortages of drinkable water.
The Lao government is moved forward plans to build what would be the country’s seventh large dam on the Mekong River, part of the country’s ambitious strategy to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.” Those dams and others like the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoi have raised deepening environmental and social concerns as local people loose fishing grounds and suffer dislocation.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.