Left to fend for themselves
Victims of Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam collapse in Laos languish in shelters, staring at an uncertain future.
Even six months after the collapse of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy shelters dam, which severely destroyed six villages in southern Laos and inundated over 55,200 hectars of land under deep floodwater, the victims are still having to live in temporary shelters with no certainty about their future.
The camp residents are suffering from a severe shortage of basic necessities as donations have dropped drastically after the incident stopped making headlines. They said they had to make do with what little they get from the authorities.
It is a sunny afternoon in the Sanamxay district of Attapeu province, and people are seen leading their lives as normal, shopping in the local market while students ride motorbikes to school. However, a few kilometres up the dirt road toward a cluster of villages along the Xe Pian River, the view is totally different.
Though the sun has dried up the mud left by the deadly flash flood on the night of July 23, the destroyed houses remain untouched and the wreckage of vehicles can be seen everywhere.
Up the hill from the disaster zone are temporary camps where the homeless villagers now live. While the residents of two out of five camps have moved into their temporary new homes already, hundreds of families still have to live in tents.
Vieng Sianpongsai, one of the displaced villagers at the Pindong refugee camp, told The Nation that it was difficult to make a livelihood and they could not even repair their homes as the government and the dam-project owners still cannot reach an agreement on the compensation amount for the victims.
“We have been living in tents for six months now because the temporary houses the dam company is building for us are not ready yet,” Vieng said.
“It is unbearably hot inside the tents during the day, and very cold at night, so we have had to build wooden shelters outside to rest. However, the camp is more pleasant at night as the authorities have already installed electricity.”
Despite the tough living conditions, she said the even greater hardship was not being able to earn a living as they are not allowed to leave the camp to find work, while aid and supplies have stopped trickling in.
Several sources, including locals and international agencies, confirmed that each camp resident was given a monthly subsidy of 100,000 kip (Bt400), a daily allowance of 5,000 kip (Bt20) and 20 kilograms of rice per month.
“We don’t know how to survive. We don’t have jobs or anywhere to go. The allowance from the government is too small to survive on and we only get rice with nothing to eat it with,” Vieng said.
“In the first few months, we got plenty of donations and supplies from international agencies and the private sector, but after our problems stopped getting media attention, we were forgotten.”
She said the greatest need now was for food and seasoning, cooking equipment, supplies for newborns as well as farming equipment and essential tools to repair their homes
Katouk Singsouvong, owner of “Attapeu One Love” restaurant and a local volunteer, confirmed the scarcity of supplies at refugee camps and said her charity group, which has been working with the local authorities on gathering the supplies from the private donors and distribute to the dam disaster victims, was one of very few that still provided aid.
“Another problem we have observed is uneven distribution, as some camps that are farther and tougher to access, such as Pindong and Tamoryord, get a lot less than other camps, such as Hadyao, that are closer to the city,” Katouk said.
She revealed that though the Lao government and the private sector have done their best to provide for the victims, it was still not enough as the owners of the dam project are providing little or no compensation and donations have more or less stopped.
The collapse of Saddle Dam D of Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Dam last July completely destroyed six villages, killed at least 40 people and displaced more than 4,500 others.
According to the dam operator's account, the earth-filled Saddle Dam D was breached by the deluge of inflow water from the extraordinary strong monsoon and released over 5 billion cubic metres of water in the form of the strong flash flood waves smashing down Xe Pian River.
Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower dam is a US$1.2 billion worth joint venture project between South Korean and Thai ivestors, SK Engineering and Construction (SK E&C), Korea Western Power (KOWEPO), and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding (RATCH), with Lao Holding State Enterprise (LHSE). It was intended to generate electricity to a capacity of 410 megawatt and 90 per cent of the power would be sold to Thailand.
This is the first in a series of reports related to the fallout of the disaster at Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Dam in southern Laos. The next report, focusing on the struggles of the dam disaster victims, will be published on Wednesday.
Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and Southeast Asian Press Alliance.