|What happens to the people living in areas affected by hydropower schemes?|
A: The Lao Government is very conscious of the need to compensate those affected by hydropower developments and of the importance of an inclusive and comprehensive consultative process. Detailed consultation with villagers has formed, and continues to form, an integral part of any resettlement process resulting from planned hydropower projects.
In Lao PDR the sparse population within most of the mountain valleys reduces the social cost of resettlement programs and also provides alternative areas for resettlement. Many communities traditionally form temporary settlements. The need to move to new locations is determined by resource availability - as resources are depleted within their area, so the community will move the village to a new location. This historical pattern reduces many of the social concerns associated with resettlement requirements.
To assist community development and improve the social equity of hydropower projects the Government now requires developers to meet multilateral agency standards and to provide a continuing portion of the project's income to any dislocated community for social development programmes. World Bank standards on resettlement specify that every household should be better off after being resettled
Benefits accruing from resettlement may include rural electrification, improved roads, hospitals and education facilities, the development of agro-forestry and potential dry-season irrigation, as well as skills development and job creation. Cheap electricity and plentiful water can be used to replace rainfed paddy land with irrigated paddy and cash crops. Headponds and reservoirs can be stocked with fish and these resources can be managed so they are not overfished. The community's health and nutrition status will also improve as part of a gradual improvement in socio-economic conditions.
The Government believes that resettled villagers should not simply be given new choices for improving their living standards and income earning potential, but must also receive long-term support to ensure these improvements actually take place. Alternative livelihood options should be provided, such as irrigated agriculture, commercial forestry, reservoir fisheries, livestock husbandry, handicraft manufacture and other small-scale commercial activities. To ensure that these are viable alternatives, appropriate training and equipment must be provided to help villagers adapt and sufficient interim measures must be taken to ensure the welfare of villagers in the initial years following resettlement while the villagers are developing their new livelihoods. New settlements must also include schools, clinics, roads, irrigation systems and other parts of the community infrastructure.
For example with the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) project 6,000 people in 1,000 households were relocated. The project budgeted around US$36 million for resettlement and compensation, of which US$20 million was specifically earmarked for resettlement. Villagers are now in new housing in a total of 14 new villages that include community buildings such as schools and clinics, and have water and electricity supplies. To minimise geographic displacement, the new villages were built as close as possible to the villagers' existing homes. The consultative process used for the Nam Theun 2 project was intensive and offers a template for future developments ( NT2 page and www.namtheun2.com)