Do No Harm: Avoiding Resettlement Failure at Vietnam's Son La Hydropower Project

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Vietnam’s ambitious Son La Hydropower Project could face serious problems if the government’s plan to resettle 100,000 mostly ethnic people is not carried out in a just and fair manner. So far more than 1,000 families have been moved away from the Da River to make way for the $2.3 billion dam. A host of problems have already emerged, according to a new study released by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) in association with International Rivers.

The VUSTA report -- "A Work in Progress: Study on the Impacts of Vietnam’s Son La Hydropower Project" -- is drawn from an in-depth field study by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers conducted in late 2005. It identifies two critical problems with the resettlement program: ensuring land-use rights and providing arable land for the resettled people. Additional problems identified by the report include the disintegration of ethnic minority communities due to resettlement and insufficient compensation for lost land, livelihood and infrastructure.

"Villagers have rebuilt their houses, but resettlement committees have not finalized compensation procedures and land reallocation," said the Headman of the Phieng Bung resettlement village, Muong Bu Commune. "We have not received land for production," said the Headman. "A number of households had invested millions of Dong in new boats and nets, having quite a high income before. But now moving up here, they cannot use them. This is a huge loss for them."

While the report reveals flaws in the implementation of the resettlement plan, the problems are not insurmountable. With sufficient investment of time and resources from the government and Electricity of Vietnam, resettlement failure can be avoided.

VUSTA’s report recommends that no one should be moved into resettlement sites unless detailed plans are in place and land and livelihood secured for the affected people, and that Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) link its construction timetable with resettlement so it can be held accountable for the project’s impact on local people.

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