Hydropower resettlement in the Mekong region

  • 2018

Hydropower resettlement in the Mekong region

The number of people displaced by hydropower dam construction has been growing
steadily as more dams are constructed on the Mekong mainstream and its tributaries.
More dams are proposed because the governments of Mekong countries regard them
as a means to tackle poverty and stimulate economic growth (MRC, 2009).
Many scholars argue that resettlement does little or nothing to improve the lives of
affected people, regularly leaving them worse off than before dam construction
(McCully, 1996; WDC, 2000; Delang and Toro, 2011; The Guardian, 2015; Chamberlain,
2007; Lawrence, 2007; Baird et al. 2015; Evrard and Goudineau, 2004).
The number of forcibly resettled people around the world is increasing. The World
Bank estimates that nearly 40-80 million people have been displaced worldwide due
to the reservoirs created by large dams (WCD, 2000). Looking at the Mekong region, in
China alone the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project, displaced
more than 1.2 million people (The Guardian, 2015). At the other end of the scale, Ty et
al. (2013) report that the A Luoi dam, a fairly small dam on the A Sap River in Vietnam
displaced 218 households (about 872 villagers), mostly ethnic minorities. Larger dams
like the Son La dam in Vietnam displaced 16,206 households (Ha, 2011). The Nam Theun
2 Dam in Laos – currently its largest – dislocated about 6,200 indigenous people living
on the Nakai Plateau (IRN, 2007). About 4,800 people from 11 villages were forced to
move when the Theun Hinboun Dam in Laos was built. They were moved to three
host villages along the Nam Phiat and Nam Ngoy Rivers (Imhof, 2008). The Pak Mun
Dam, a run-of-river dam, displaced 248 households (WCD, 2000). The Lower Sesan 2
(LSS2) Dam in Stung Treng, Cambodia displaced over 5,000 people (Earthrights, 2014).
Dams cause involuntary resettlement of mostly ethnic minorities and remain a serious
threat to their livelihoods and well-being (Ha, 2011; Baird and Shoemaker, 2007; McCully,
1996; Delang and Toro, 2011; Chamberlain, 2007; Lawrence, 2007; Imhof, 2008; IRN,
2007; World Bank, 2015a; Baird et al. 2015, Keophoxay 2013, Trung 2013, The Guardian
2015, Yin 2013, Borin 2013, Scudder 2005, Cernea 2008, McCully 2001, Picciotto et al.
2001; WCD, 2000; Goldsmith and Hildyard, 1984). In early 2015, the World Bank
admitted major shortcomings of their resettlement policy in dam-affected areas around
the world. World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim said: “We took a hard look at
ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern. We found several
major problems. One is that we haven’t done a good enough job in overseeing projects
involving resettlement and two, we haven’t implemented those plans well enough; and
three, we haven’t put in place strong tracking systems to make sure that our policies were
being followed. We must and will do better” (World Bank, 2015a).
Dam expert Thayer Scudder (2005: 1), one of 12 Commissioners on the World
Commission on Dams (WCD), said dams have adverse impacts on the ecology and on
people.
Large dams are flawed for many reasons. Benefits are overstated and costs are understated.
Especially serious are the adverse environmental impacts on world river basins, impacts
that tend to be irreversible when dams are built on mainstreams and large tributaries.
Implementation continues to impoverish the majority of those who must be resettled from
reservoir basins and project works and adversely affects millions of people who live below
dams and whose living depends on natural flood regimes.

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