Vietnam is undertaking a massive dam building strategy that will displace almost 200,000 people and affect many more thousands living in downstream areas. Currently 110 hydropower projects on the cascades of big rivers are under development or at an advanced stage of planning to meet Vietnam’s spiraling demand for energy.1
Left behind in this dam-building rush are the local communities, especially in remote, mountainous areas, who face the brunt of the impacts from dams construction. Apart from displacement, local communities are losing access to forests and rivers that they depend upon for their livelihoods.
The 102 MW Hoi Xuan hydropower dam being built on the Ma River by the VNECO Hoi Xuan Investment and Electricity Construction Joint Stock Co. around 15 kilometers northwest of Hoi Xuan commune in Thanh Hoa province. The dam has already had many impacts as local communities have lost their residential and agricultural land, and crops.
The local communities have voiced frustration at not getting fair compensation for their losses of property and farmlands. Given their location in a remote province in Vietnam, the communities have a hard time reaching out with their concerns to government officials.
Ethnic communities affected by Hoi Xuan
One of the affected villages located in the site of the Hoi Xuan dam reservoir is an ethnic community with fifty three households. The community depends for their livelihoods on the bamboo forest. The village belongs to one of sixty two districts classified by the government as the poorest in the whole country.
The dam project has cleared a large area of the bamboo forest. The communities have also lost about 283,076 square meters of residential land. The compensation they have received is meagre and far from adequate to restart their lives in a new location after being displaced by the dam. Many people have voiced their concerns about their ongoing suffering and hardship. (Their identities are not being revealed for their own safety.)
“We could not restore our life like before with such low compensation”, one woman said. Another old man said: “I would rather die than get such low compensation, then maybe the government will realize our difficult circumstances”. The communities have made complaints to the local authority, but these complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
One young woman said: “The first time, the dam builders informed us of the compensation. We thought it was very low. We complained to the local government officials. The officials said the price was set by the central government and they could not change it. We had to accept the price. But the money was not enough to relocate and begin our lives all over again”.
The compensation for large projects is normally set by the state and is often vastly different from the market rate. One report of the World Bank states: “there are huge discrepancies between the Government’s ‘set price’ for land and the ‘market price’ (which is often 10 times higher than the ‘set price’). This is a cause for large distortions and bottlenecks in the land market. This two-price system can transfer huge values and benefits to investors, and speculators.”2
This means that affected communities who have lived on the land for a long time tend to suffer once they lose their land, which is their key asset for their livelihood. For them, losing land means losing their lives, since they have to start all over again.
In the case of the Hoi Xuan dam like many other dams in Vietnam, local people rarely got a chance to participate in the decision-making about the dam. It is extremely rare for the government to allow local communities to be involved in decisions about where the dam will be built, when the dam gates will open, or how much land and crops will be lost.3 In most cases, the affected people know about the dam only after the project is approved and the construction begins by clearing the site. Even worse still is the lack of information about the location or quality of the resettlement sites.
“I even do not know what we will have at the resettlement site, the information is not clear, we are concerned about our future,” one woman said.
Moreover, many households were not included in the compensation policy. One young man said: “My kitchen collapsed due to the dam construction work. I want to relocate, but my household was not ranked in the affected households group.”
In one village, more than ten households have decided to stay at the dam site even though it is dangerous as the site is prone to landslides. They feel they have no choice.
- Năng lượng Việt Nam, Quy hoạch thủy điện trên toàn quốc “sau rà soát”, 14/07/2017. http://nangluongvietnam.vn/news/vn/dien-luc-viet-nam/quy-hoach-thuy-dien-tren-toan-quoc-sau-ra-soat.html ↩
- The World Bank, Vietnam Urbanization Review, technical assistance report, 11/2011. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/2826 ↩
- Tô Văn Trường, Dân nghèo điên đầu với thủy điện, Tuổi trẻ online, 26/10/2015 ↩