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Local Government in Laos Again Falls Behind on Living Allowances for Dam Collapse Survivors

République démocratique populaire lao
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The government in Laos’ Attapeu province has once again fallen behind on living allowance payments it promised to survivors of the country’s worst flooding in decades.

Many survivors lost their homes and land, and even family members in a disaster that occurred last July when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Laos’ southern Champassak and Attapeu provinces, and leaving many more missing.

Each survivor is entitled to $12 per month for food and other living expenses, but some have not received any cash from the government for almost three months, sources say.

According to an RFA report from November 2018, the province at that time hadn’t paid out allowances for two months. Now they are falling behind again.

The head of one of one family that lost everything in the disaster told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday that the government has given them some essentials but has not fulfilled its obligations in full.

“No food allowance,” said the source.

“We’ve received only rice, but not money for food. The authorities haven’t’ paid us for more than two months, almost three months now,” the source said.

The source added that the government cleared land for them, but even that was unhelpful.

“My family received 2 hectares of land that has been cleared, but it’s not good for growing anything. We were told to plant cassava and then sell it to a company, but so far nobody has [been able to grow] anything yet,” the source said.

The source said that following the government’s directives would actually cost the family more than doing nothing.

“It’s not worth doing because we’ll be growing cassava for a company that will withhold some of our income for clearing land and for capital,” referring to the money spent by the company to help clear the land and help them to grow the root.

“The company is also providing technical expertise, seeds, marketing and farming equipment. We the victims are meant to contribute labor and land from the government,” said the source.

Another survivor, from Tamayor Village in Attapeu province’s Sanamxay district, told RFA last month, “We haven’t received allowances for April and May. Instead of our allowance, they gave each family a fishing net and told us to fish for our needs.”

Attapeu Provincial Governor Leth Xayaphone last month said the province was “having a problem with the funding. We are not able to payout [allowances] right now. But the provincial government is trying to get more funding from the [central] government and other sources.”

An official of Attapeu province’s agriculture and forestry department confirmed to RFA late last month that authorities had allocated a piece of land of about 460 hectares to a Chinese-Vietnamese company for a banana plantation in Sanamxay District.

Banana ban

The revelation that bananas are being grown on land set aside for flood victims came just two weeks after the Lao government vowed to enforce a ban on the granting of land for new banana plantations and punish local officials who violate it, amid a controversy over the illegal overuse of pesticides that residents say are causing pollution and destroying their livelihoods.

Concerns over chemical run-off from heavily polluting Chinese-owned banana plantations led in January 2017 to government orders forbidding new banana concessions, though many farms still operate under contracts valid for several more years.

But local officials have granted a number of firms land for new banana plantations in recent months, despite the government ban, in provinces that include Xayabury, Oudomxay, Borikhamxay, and Savannakhet, while other companies are negotiating for new farms elsewhere in the country, such as Vientiane province, sources told RFA.

An earlier report by RFA found that the 460 hectare concession was part of a 2,000 hectare plot that had been promised to relocated survivors. In that report, the governor had said that the intent was to allow the company to help the survivors with jobs and a share of the profits.

But RFA’s Lao Service now reports that the parts of the 2,000 hectare plot that are not being used for bananas are now intended for survivors to plant cassava.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.