Residents of dam resettlement village say water system has dried up

Tavanh village was built on high ground in Luang Namtha province by the developers of a China-backed dam.
By RFA Lao
2024.02.01
Residents of dam resettlement village say water system has dried up A water dispenser in Tavanh village in Laos has fallen into disuse, Jan. 30, 2024. “The whole water system has broken down,” says a villager. (Citizen journalist)
Photo: RFA

Residents of a resettlement village in northern Luang Namtha province say they haven’t had access to a critical water source over the last seven months after mud and debris clogged up several wells built by the developer of a nearby dam.

Tavanh village and its water system were built on high ground in 2016 to house villagers displaced by the China-backed Namtha 1 Dam – one of dozens of hydropower dams built in Laos in recent years.

“The system built by the dam developer is completely useless,” said a villager, who like other sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons. 

Some residents of Tavanh have built their own system by installing pipes to pump water from a nearby creek and lake, but that costs at least 1 million kip ($50) and the creek runs dry for much of April and May, the villager said. 

Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the dam projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers and questionable financial and power-demand arrangements.

ENG_LAO_DamWater_02012024.2.jpg
During last year’s rainy season, Tavanh village’s wells, such as this one seen on Jan. 30, 2024, flooded and filled up with debris and mud, says a resident. (Citizen journalist)

The developer of Namtha 1 Dam hired two subcontractors in 2015 to build 11 resettlement villages that included homes, health centers, offices, roads and schools. 

More than 14,000 people moved to new villages because of the project. There are several hundred residents of Tavanh, which is about 10 km (6 miles) away from the Nam Tha River in the province’s Nalae district. 

No action from authorities

During last year’s rainy season, the village’s wells flooded and then filled up with debris, dirt and mud, according to a second villager.

“The whole water system has broken down,” the second villager said. “It only worked for about a year. After that, it wasn’t so efficient and didn’t supply enough water.”

District authorities have promised to fix the system, but no action has been taken in the last seven months, several villagers said.

A district official told Radio Free Asia that he wasn’t aware of the problem.

“We didn’t know that the water system was damaged,” he said. “The village authorities have never informed us, never reported any problem to us. Our district authorities are going to check it out with the dam developer and villagers.”

The Namtha 1 Dam is a joint venture between China Southern Power Grid International Co. Ltd., which owns 80 percent of the project, and Electricite du Lao, with a 20 percent share.

It began operating in 2019. The dam sells most of its generated power to two special economic zones – the Golden Triangle SEZ in Bokeo province and the Boten SEZ in Luang Namtha, bordering China. 

After 28 years of operation, ownership of the dam will transfer to the Lao government.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed.

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