People relocated for Vietnam dam prefer forest to new house

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A woman and her children use rainwater in a water hole to bathe since their relocation area in Quang Nam Province does not have water supply.

More and more families out of a group of people relocated in the central province of Quang Nam to build a large hydropower dam are moving to live in a nearby forest saying they have no farm land or drinking water.

Many of the 834 families who were displaced by the Song Tranh 2 dam in 2005 were never happy to live in the houses provided by the dam builder, Electricity of Vietnam.

Besides the two factors, they also fear that the houses cannot withstand earthquakes, hundreds of which have hit the area since the dam was finished late last year.

The dam has been built on a geological fault line.

The state-owned power monopoly earlier this week paid residents VND3.5 billion (US$167,870) to repair nearly 1,000 houses and public buildings besides roads and water supply systems in Bac Tra My District that were damaged by the quakes.

Ministry of Construction officials are in the district to help build quake-proof houses.

But many of the displaced people are not willing to wait.

Ho Thi Duong, 40, said: "People here have to walk nearly two hours every day to fetch water from a stream."

Around 20 families left for the forest earlier this year to live in huts, and now the number has doubled.

Ho Van Loi, the chairman of a local commune, said: "Life in the relocation area has been too miserable due to the lack of land and water. If the condition persists, leaving for the jungle will become inevitable.

"The dam investor has promised to build roads and wells and provide more land. I hope it did not make empty promises."

Local rangers have reported a rise in illegal logging in the area as people become desperate without lands.

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Quang Nam has the largest number of hydropower plants in the region.

The province planned to build 44 but recently suspended work on 17 and canceled two other projects, stating that losses outweighed gains.

Seven plants are in operation and eight others are under construction. A total of more than 5,700 hectares of land has been taken over, including 2,000 ha of agriculture land, and 3,519 families have been relocated.

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