Friday, November 06, 2009

Laos: Nam Theun 2 Dam - "the spirits, who don’t want to be here"

Grandmother Khamsone is among thousands forced to relocate as a result of the Nam Theun 2 Dam

Over 6,000 people have been resettled to make way for a controversial dam in central Laos: The Nam Theun 2 Dam, the country’s single largest infrastructure project, will produce electricity for Thailand, and domestically.

Resettlement consultations with villagers in the densely forested Nakai Plateau, where the dam is located, took over 10 years. The Aheu, a minority ethnic group, were reluctant to move because of their spiritual connection to the land but started to do so from April 2008. By the end of 2008 they had been resettled in a number of different villages around the reservoir. One village accommodates 14 extended families in wooden stilt houses with electricity and clean water, which they did not have previously.

Among the last to move was Grandmother Khamsone, 85, the matriarch of the Aheu in Nakai.

“When the water rose high in the reservoir, I was scared because water was everywhere. I had seen a dam on TV which broke and the water came out. Also there were warning signs everywhere telling us to be aware of water rising suddenly, so I was worried the water would suddenly rise higher. That’s why I moved here.

“My old house had bamboo on the floors and walls, and the roof was made of leaves. I still miss the old house, but I couldn’t do anything because of the flood. It’s more comfortable here than the old house. We are happy, but the only thing is the spirits, who don’t want to be here.

“The spirits are from the forest. Four shamans spoke to the spirits and asked them to come here, but they don’t like this area. They aren’t used to staying here. I really want to ask the spirits why they don’t want to come here, but I can’t see them or talk to them. If I could see them, I would urge them to come here with me. If I could make the spirits happy, I could stay here longer.

“I need to go back to the old house to see the spirits. I should raise them once a year to keep them happy. If I don’t, they might come and kill me. I have to take a boat [to the old house], but I’m scared of getting into a boat in the water and drowning. I had an accident - I fell down the stairs going to collect a rice donation from the NTPC [Nam Theun Power Company]. Now I can’t move my hands and legs very well.

“It’s good to have electricity, but if you don’t give me money, I can’t pay the bill, so please get rid of it. I will light a fire instead. I used all my money to buy a TV and a CD player for my children and I don’t have any more. I don’t want to trouble my children to pay the electricity bill, because if they earn money, they want to spend it on something else.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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