Authority's lies keep village in the dark for over 20 years

By Tran Ho, Thanh Nien News

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Children study with a kerosene lamp in “oil lamp village” in the northern province of Hoa Binh. Photo: Tran Ho Children study with a kerosene lamp in “oil lamp village” in the northern province of Hoa Binh. Photo: Tran Ho


It is officially called Area 7 and is a part of Kha village in the northern province of Hoa Binh.
But it is better known as "the oil lamp village," a reference to the fact that locals rely on kerosene lamps and flashlights to get through their routines at night.
For the past 20 years more than 100 people here have never had access to electricity though they live less than 30 kilometers from the country's largest hydropower plant and high-voltage transmissions lines go right above their heads.
"We are living in the dark," Bui Van Chuyen, a local man, said.
He said their life is "very miserable" for having to rely on flashlights and oil lamps, which are hard to find. People have to travel four or five kilometers to Bac Son Commune to buy the items, but they are not always available.
In winter they light a fire right in the house to keep warm and go to bed as early as 6 p.m. to save oil, Chuyen's wife, Bui Thi Bang, said.
In summer, when the sun sets, they pack meals and other necessary things to move to caves in the forest to avoid the heat, which can never be beaten with hand fans, and return home in the morning, she said.
Hoang Thi Nguyen said she cooks dinner wearing a flashlight on her head. The light is then hung from the roof so that her family can eat because the light from the kerosene lamp is not enough.
Children study near the fire in winter and under the moonlight in summer, Nguyen said.
"We live without knowing what electric light is."
Locals said they are virtually isolated from the world since they cannot watch television or listen to the radio.
Bui Van Nhien, head of the area, said his wife brought two TVs after working in Hanoi for some time, but they have ended up as book shelves for their kids.
Lies, broken promises
Villagers said they were promised electricity when they agreed to participate in the commune authorities’ resettlement plan in 1993, but it was never provided despite many pleas over the years.
Only when they recently filed a petition to Kim Boi District, which administers the commune, did they realize that the commune has been lying about their status in its annual reports.
"We have been living in the dark, but the commune always reports to the district that 100 percent of its households have electricity," Chuyen said.
Speaking to Thanh Nien, Bui Van Luong, chairman of Bac Son Commune, said the commune did not have electricity until 2002, with the exception of Area 7, because at the time only five families lived there.
After that the authority "was not aware" of the area's lack of electricity since the village chairman did not report about it, he claimed, adding that since he only became chairman three months ago, he does not know fully about the situation.
With the district's intervention, villagers expected to have access to electricity last month, but the plan has been apparently delayed.
According to official estimates, it costs VND5-6 million (US$220-265) for a household to get connected since they live 100-300 meters away from power poles.
Since meters are also required, the cost could double to around VND10 million, which they cannot afford, the villagers said.

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