February 24, 1997
While debate on the controversial Nam Theun 2 hydro-electricity project rages on, residents of Nakai Plateau, the dam’s site which will be submerged as a result, are anxiously waiting to be resettled, hoping for a new and better life.
Nakai Nua, a 300-year-old hamlet, is one of 22 villages on the peninsula which will
turn into a artificial reservoir when the dam is completed.
A relative newcomer to Nakai Nua is 48-year-old Banjong who has lived there for 18
years, but long enough for him to realise that his village has changed tremendously since
he first arrived.
“In 1991 the pine forests around the village were dense but when Bolisat Phattana Khet
Phudoi started logging the forests gradually became thinner, and now are almost bare,”
he said, referring to the military logging company which monopolises logging in Laos.
Banjong admits the slash-and-burn rice farming has also been a major threat to the
“We have no choice,” he said. “Slash-and-burn farming is the only way to guarantee
that we obtain our staple food all year round as the low-lying paddy fields along the
river banks are prone to floods.”
Banjong has about 18 hectares of farmland by the banks of Nam Theun River. “Out of
the eight years I’ve been farming on the land only two yielded good harvest. The rest of
the time monsoon floods damaged our fields.”
A teenager who identified himself as Nong said his village, Sop Hia, just five kilometres
from the dam site, would be among the first to be inundated if the project went ahead.
He said forests surrounding Sop Hia are more abundant in teak and timber than Nakai
Nua because of fewer incidence of slash-and-burn farming, adding that elephants,
deers and wild pigs were still a common sight.
Nakai Nua and Sop Hia villagers depend a lot on fishing in Nam Theun River and its
tributaries, and to a lesser extent on hunting wildlife for sale or barter in the local
markets, but Nong pointed out that severe droughts and flooding in recent years led to
rapid degradation of forests, making life more difficult for them.
As such, the prospect of relocation drew a guarded response from villagers and though
most looked forward with hope they still couldn’t quite come to grips with what the
future held in store for them.
“I hope the resettlement area will be better than my old village. I wish the farmland is
not prone to floods and has proper irrigation facilities so that we could water our land
during the dry season.
“I hope our resettlement home is more hospitable because the government has
promised to provide water, electricity and asphalt roads,” said Banjong.
Nong for his part doesn’t have the faintest idea what his new home is going to look like
and didn’t fancy contemplating either.
All he said was: “They told us our house would be inundated. If they want us to leave,
we have to leave.”
An estimated 1,000 families in 22 villages will be uprooted as a result of the
450-sq-km aritificial reservoir the dame will create when it’s completed, according to
its Nam Theun 2 Electricity Consortium (Ntec).
About 20,000 hectares of land on the western side of the artificial lake is being
developed into a resettlement area. The relocation will begin only after the World Bank
gives it approval to the project.
A model farm has been set up on a five-hactare plot in a degraded pine forest near Sop
One village. It will be used to train villagers facing resettlement in the art of different
farming techniques as opposed to slash-and-burn method.
Several families are being trained in an agro-forestry farming and once they have
completed their training they will have a chance to put their knowledge to use on a
20,000-hectare plot set aside to resettle villagers affected by the dam project.
About 1.6 million cubic metres of pine trees and hardwood with commercial value still
remain there and they are being cut and hauled to saw mills and wood processing
plants in Thakhaek across from Thailand’s Nakhon Phanom province to clear the way
for the dam.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch