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Dam drowns relocated villagers in misery

By Tran Hoa   April 17, 2022 | 04:42 pm PT
After giving up their homes and farmland for a hydropower project, many villagers in Quang Ngai Province have seen their life descend from relative prosperity to downright misery.

Standing next to the reservoir created by the Dak Drinh hydropower plant in the central province are 14 makeshift houses inhabited by a community of Xo Dang ethnic people.

The stilt houses have provided shelter to families resettled by the dam project for almost 10 years now.

On an afternoon in late April, A Kho, 32, returned home with his wife after a day of working on a cassava farm.

Both are hired by other farm owners and together, they get paid VND200,000 ($9) per day.

For dinner that day, all they had was rice and bamboo shoots. Kho said he was not allowed to leave work early and therefore, could not make time to catch some fish to feed his two children.

A Kho sits in his makeshift house, where he lives with his wife and two children, next to the Dak Drink hydropower plant, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

A Kho sits in his makeshift house, where he lives with his wife and two children, next to the Dak Drink hydropower plant, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

Ten years ago, his family was among the better-off households in the village with their own house and farm. Apart from rowing rice, he even had enough land to grow other farm produce and raise a few heads of cattle.

But everything changed in 2009 when work started on the dam project.

Nearly 200 families in Kon Plong District, including Kho's, had to be relocated.

"The investor promised us that the relocation will allow us to have a life that is at least the same or even better than what we had, and most of us believed that," he said.

His family was compensated VND119 million ($5,212) in total for their land and farm.

In 2013, the resettlement project went up along an upstream section of the Dak Drinh River, around 10km from the old village.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the new house on a mountain. It was no comparison with our old home."

Shocked as he was, Kho had no choice but to accept the new house, a decision he regrets to this day, especially given that he and many villagers have not been given any farmland as promised.

Invested in by Petrovietnam Power, the Dak Drinh hydropower project has a capacity of 125 MW with two generators for an annual output of 520 million KWh.

The resettlement area for the project comprises 83 houses, with two-thirds of them on a mountain and the rest at its foot. Costing VND400-600 million each, they are concrete houses with wooden floors and tiled roofs.

Resettlement houses for villagers affected by the Dak Drink hydropower plant on a mountain. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

Resettlement houses for villagers affected by the Dak Drink hydropower plant on a mountain. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

Aside from their inconvenient location, the resettlement houses do not have running water as the investor had promised.

After several years, most villagers abandoned the relocation area, using the houses as warehouses for their farm produce. These days, most of them have returned to the old village to live in makeshift houses near the dam. Some are lucky enough to have some farmland left after the project's acquisition.

Just 35 families still stay back at the resettlement area, all of them at the foot of the mountain. They use water from a nearby stream for their daily activities.

"I have no place left to go," said 31-year-old A Tap.

Tap is among those who have been given farmland in compensation. But apart from being too far from his new house, the land is too infertile to grow anything, he said.

In addition to these issues, the investor has failed to finish paying the owners of rice fields that were designated for relocated villagers as part of the compensation deal, leading to conflicts between villagers and field owners.

As a solution, local authorities have made them split the fields in half for growing their own crops while waiting for the investor to keep its promises.

Dao Duy Khanh, Party chief of Kon Plong District, said problems related to compensating villagers affected by the Dak Drinh hydropower project have lasted for a decade now.

He said Quang Ngai Province has repeatedly directed the district to coordinate with relevant departments and make proposals to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industry and Trade to advise the central government to remove difficulties in completing a fair settlement. However, related parties have yet to reach a consensus until now, leaving the relocated households in limbo and in misery.

 
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