Laos shrugs as villagers lose farms to dam reservoir

Developers who built Laos’ Nam Khan 3 dam have not compensated farmers who lost crops to rising water in the reservoir, sources living near the dam told RFA. A Lao government official said the displaced villagers were unlikely to get any more money.

The dam, which sits on the Nam Khan River, began operating in 2016, and the villagers were relocated downstream to a newly built resettlement village. While they received money for lost homes, they were never given any compensation or new plots of farmland. Instead, they were told that they could continue to work at their farms upstream from the dam.

But those farms are now flooded.

“The dam owner recently made a survey. When they close the waterway, the water in the reservoir is on the rise and floods the villagers’ farmland,” a villager living near the dam in the province’s Xieng Ngeun district in the northern part of the country told RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

“The villagers have not received compensation like a plot of new cultivated farmland in a resettlement village. It seems like the dam owner just got their land for free and they get nothing at all,” the villager said.

According to the villager, the dam has negatively affected more than 650 people in 10 villages.

“There are only a few parts of the farmland that are not completely flooded. The villagers have not received money for their lost farmland, but all of them want it. If we do not get the compensated, for our lost farmland, it will be so sad,” a second villager said.

A Xiengngeun district official confirmed to RFA that the rising water in the reservoir has damaged farmland and trees and caused landslides.

“The dam owner has to investigate and solve these problems, and the district has informed them they should do this,” the official said.

An official at the province’s Energy and Mines Department, however, told RFA that the villagers were not entitled to compensation for flooded farms because the dam owned the land and had allowed the farmers to cultivate it.

The Nam Khan 3 Dam is a 60-megawat dam, designed and constructed by the Sinohydro Corporation of China and owned by the state-run Électricité du Laos, which financed the project by borrowing about $130 million from China’s Exim Bank.

The Nam Khan River, where the dam was built, meets the Mekong River at the ancient city of Luang Prabang in the northern part of Laos. The project is one of dozens of dams that Lao has constructed on the Mekong River and its tributaries under its controversial economic strategy to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” by selling electricity to neighboring countries.

But displaced villagers commonly complain that they are not sufficiently compensated for what they have lost in the name of development.

The energy official said the villagers would not be able to cultivate any of the land near the reservoir without permission.

“Water is rising in the areas belonging to the dam owner, so there is no problem,” the energy official said.

“As there is no farmland left in the resettlement village, there will be no compensation to those villagers who are affected by the dam,” said the energy official, who pointed out that the villagers already received compensation for their houses, as well as some of the trees on their property.

From the local government’s point of view, the issue of compensation has already been settled, he said.

When villagers who said they were told they could continue to farm on land that has now been flooded complained to the National Assembly for relief, they were told that the issue of compensation had been resolved and they were not eligible for additional relief.

Reported and translated by RFA/Lao service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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