Lao dam collapse survivors still wait for new homes amid construction delays

Too few carpenters and masons are employed on the project, and many are not being paid.
Lao dam collapse survivors still wait for new homes amid construction delays Some of the 700 permanent homes being built for flood survivors in Sanamxay district, Attapeu province, in Laos are shown in a photo taken in 2020.

Lao villagers displaced by the country’s worst-ever dam collapse more than three years ago are still waiting for permanent homes promised by the end of this year, with setbacks blamed on poor planning and inadequate numbers of workers, Lao sources say.

The building of 700 new homes for survivors of the July 23, 2018 disaster at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy dam is still not complete, said an official of Attapeu province, where flooding from the dam’s collapse wiped out all or part of 19 villages, leaving 71 people dead and displacing 14,400 others.

”There has been some progress, but the construction was delayed because only a few carpenters and masons were working,” the official told RFA on Dec. 20, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

“Other carpenters and masons weren’t paid, and if they didn’t get paid they wouldn’t come to work,” he said.

Another reason for the delays is that the Vanseng Company, hired in May 2020 on a bid of U.S. $24.5 million, is the only company performing the work, the official said. “If our authorities wanted to finish construction of all 700 homes on time, they should have hired at least three companies, employing more carpenters and masons.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in Laos and neighboring countries has also led to border closures, and some of the materials needed for construction can’t be brought in from Thailand, the official added.

“At this rate, I think that all 700 homes will be built sometime in 2022 or even 2023 because of the delays,” he said.

Flood survivors still housed in temporary shelters face difficult living conditions as they wait for their promised homes to be built, some said.

“Our family has not been able to move into our new home yet,” said one woman, speaking to RFA on Dec. 20. “My husband keeps an eye on the construction, but the house is not yet complete. Some homes have only had their foundations laid.”

“We’ve complained to authorities about the delays, but they just say this and that and don’t do anything about it,” she said.

Another survivor said that COVID fears had slowed construction of the homes. “About four months ago, I saw a lot of workers building the homes, but all of a sudden they stopped because of COVID-19, and after that only a few of the workers were still working,” he said.

Water shortages are now another problem for the villagers housed in temporary shelters, he said.

“The water supply system is being built but is not yet complete, and we don’t have enough water, especially during the dry season. This making our lives much more difficult,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a member of a civil society organization working with authorities on behalf of the survivors said that living conditions have not improved for those still waiting for new homes to be built.

“We want the authorities to speed up construction of the permanent homes so that the survivors can live normal lives again,” he said.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, with ultimate plans to build scores more in a bid to boost the country’s economy. But the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers without adequate compensation, and questionable financial and power demand arrangements.

Reported and translated by Max Avary for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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