More than 100 Lao families who were moved to a resettlement village four years ago to make way for construction of the Nam Tha 1 Dam hydropower project in Luang Namtha province have run out of water amid a worsening drought, local sources say.
Water sources near the Nam Tha 1 Resettlement Village, comprising seven sub-villages built on high ground about 10 km (6 miles) away from the Nam Tha River in the province’s Nalae district, have now all dried up, the chief of the Tavan sub-village told RFA’s Lao Service in a recent interview.
“The creek nearby has all dried up,” the chief, named Bounsy, said. “And because people from many different villages have now moved here, we don’t have enough water. The company building the dam has stopped helping us, because its contract to help has expired.”
“The village has no water now—no drinking water, no water for anything,” agreed a resident of the Tarang sub-village, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The small creek near our village has run dry, and even a large river nearby has run out of water for the last two to three months.”
The Sengphet company, a Lao subcontractor of the China South Power Grid Corporation, has ended its support for villagers moved from the site of the Nam Tha 1 Dam because its commitment ended last year, the villager added.
Water can now be collected by villagers only when it rains, or can be brought by motorcycle from the Nam Tha River, the chief of the Hatdao sub-village said, adding, “But those without motorcycles now have to walk 10 km to get the water they need.”
The region’s drought, already severe because of unusually dry weather, grew worse after the Nam Tha 1 Dam began operations last month and closed its gates to reduce the flow of water downstream, the Hatdao sub-village chief said.
'Procedure must be followed'
Reached for comment, an official at the Luang Namtha provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department told RFA that villagers affected by the drought must follow a step-by-step procedure to appeal for help.
“They must file a complaint with the district first. Then the district will gather information, and may try to solve the problem on its own. If it can’t, it will report the matter to the province,” he said.
Calls to the Nalae district office were turned away by an official responsible for the resettlement village, who refused to answer questions.
Residents of the Nam Tha 1 resettlement village also face hardships from a lack of jobs, schools, health care, and land suitable for farming, sources told RFA in earlier reports. Landslides also pose a threat to the village, which is built on a mountain slope that may collapse when rains return, sources said.
Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries in its quest to become “the battery of Southeast Asia,” exporting the electricity they generate to other countries in the region, and is preparing to build scores more dams in the years ahead.
Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers, and questionable financial arrangements.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.