Flawed tribal relocation stalls for lack of funds

By Khanh Hoan, Thanh Nien News

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Unfinished homes meant for the Dan Lai tribe in Nghe An Province. PHOTO: KHANH HOAN

A government plan to move an ethnic minority tribe out of the jungle has dragged on for eight years as funds for building their new homes have yet to materialize.
A VND93 billion (US$4.4 million) plan was approved in 2006 to move 146 Dan Lai households from an upstream location to the lowlands of Con Cuong District in the north-central Nghe An Province.
Local sources said some of the 104 households are still awaiting their homes while those that have been relocated lack sufficient farmland to make ends meet.
Dan Lai people belongs to the Tho ethnic group.
The population, estimated at 3,000, reside in the deep jungles and high mountains of Con Cuong.
The province’s ethnic affairs committee which was tasked with overseeing the move, said they're still awaiting funds for the construction of 35 other homes while a suitable location for another 69 households has yet to be identified.
Tran Anh Tuan, head of the construction management board of Con Cuong, said they finished 26 houses in the middle of 2013 and ran out of money soon afterward.
Each concrete house costs VND270 million or VND310 million (depending on whether it contains two or three apartments); a complex of 35 houses plus a school and utility infrastructure is estimated to cost more than VND35 billion.
But Tuan said only VND21 billion had been disbursed for the next phase of the project.
Meanwhile, he said, the district is paying VND3 million a month to guard the finished houses.
“It’s been a year, and unoccupied houses can get easily deteriorated," he said. "We’re growing impatient.”
He said the provincial authorities have held different meetings but couldn't come to a solution.
La Quang Vinh, who was moved to the first complex of 42 homes in 2007, said the relocation hasn't really brought him a better life, though it has given him electricity and a stronger home near a main road.
Vinh said he has little land to farm.
He said his family of five has been allocated 1.7 hectares of forest land and 750 square meters of wet land for a paddy field, which only yields enough rice for three months of the year.
“Back in our old home, we had a lot of land to work on, we had streams and the jungle to ourselves, so we were free to take bamboo shoots, honey, catch fish, trap animals and we were not hungry.
“Here everything has to be bought but we don’t have money.”
Vinh said men in the neighborhood have left to look for jobs, only old people, women and children remain.
“Of my three sons, one went to the south and two to Laos.”
The relocation project was designed to reclaim 9.2 hectares of forest for paddy fields but a lack of money and water resources kept it from happening.
Stories passed down by elders say that the tribe was formed when a group of people from Vietnam’s dominant Kinh group fled into the jungle to escape the threat of murder from tyrants who demanded gold bamboo in exchange for their lives.
The name Dan Lai is said to combine “Dan” the name of their former village Dan Nhiem and “lai” which means hybrid in Vietnamese, as they married different ethnic groups in the jungle.
Dan Lai people are known to sit when they sleep, so they can quickly run from wild animals or invading tyrants.

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