Dams leave displaced people in the lurch

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  Luong Van Nguyen, one of thousands of people displaced by a hydropower dam in Nghe An Province, sits next to his makeshift resettlement house. Most people are living in much poorer conditions than they did prior to being displaced.

Vi Van Binh sits with his arms clasping his knees outside his makeshift residence, worry writ large on his face.

The main breadwinner for his five-member family, he knows they are running out of rice. And no one has hired him to do farm work for the last few days.

Binh and his family, residents of Tuong Duong District in the north-central province of Nghe An, was one of more than 2,000 households who gave up their land to a hydropower project and relocated to Thanh Chuong District five years ago.

Now, all of them are longing for the old days. The new life in their new homes has been nothing like what the local authorities had told them. In fact, it has been nothing but a tense struggle to survive.

After Binh and his family left Tuong Duong for Thanh Chuong after giving up their land to the Ban Ve Hydropower Plant, they were given rice as a subsidy from local authorities for the first year.

Then they were given 10,000 square meters of forest land in Ngoc Lam Commune on which they were supposed to farm and make a living.

"We planted cassava, rice and keo trees as instructed by local authorities, but we are still hungry," Binh said.

He was forced to find another way to make a living hiring his labor out as a farmhand. However, the work is not constant.

Binh said the land area for farming in his old hometown, which is now a hydropower dam filled with water, was larger than in the new home.

"We had rice in the fields, food in the forests and the streams. We were never afraid of starving.

"Here we have to buy everything, but we do not have money."

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The house in which Binh is living was built and handed over to him by the state-monopoly Electricity of Vietnam investor in the Ban Ve hydropower dam five years ago. The house is now degraded.

"Around 400 resettlement houses in the commune are in the same condition," said Lo Huy Hung, vice chairman of Ngoc Lam Commune People's Committee, the local government.

"We have asked the district authorities and the Ban Ve hydropower project's management to repair the houses but they have not yet replied."

A report by Thanh Chuong District People's Committee says 145 local households recently returned to their old hometown to live, and they used areas not yet affected by the hydropower project to cultivate crops.

In many parts of the country, hydropower dams have cheated the displaced people depriving them of a decent livelihood.

A resettlement area in Hien Luong Commune, Da Bac District, Hoa Binh Province, is just several dozen kilometers away from the province's downtown area, but it is a totally different world with makeshift houses.

As the commune does not have enough land for rice farming, relocated residents who gave land to Hoa Binh Hydropower Plant have to cultivate crops on barren hills, and their incomes are very small.

"The main dish in our meals is bamboo shoots taken from the forests," said a woman named Xa Thi Gan.

"I don't know what tomorrow may bring. What I'm afraid of the most is that we fall sick, because we cannot afford medical fees."

Xa Van Chinh, chairman of the Hien Luong Commune People's Committee, said the commune has 470 households, of which 195 are listed as "poor" and 120 are on the poverty threshold.

"The government has invested in roads, schools and electricity for the commune, but what the people need most is farmland.

"Farmers without land are doomed to poverty."

Bui Van Tinh, chairman of Hoa Binh Province People's Committee, told Vietweek the government had acknowledged the difficulties facing residents in resettlement areas.

According to Tinh, in a recent meeting with provincial authorities, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai said the government would implement a vocational training program for the residents to send them to work abroad after 2015.

"The goal is that people who had their land revoked must have a new life as good as or better than their old life in the new homes," Tinh said.

In order to keep the resettled residents in the district, authorities in Nghe An Province's Thanh Chuong District say they are trying to tell the residents to cultivate other crops instead of rice, while providing subsidies in terms of healthcare, food and schooling.

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