Syndicate content

Nam Theun 2 – How are the resettled people doing overall? In their own words… (part 2 of 2)

Nina Fenton's picture

In the last blog we saw that most resettlers are broadly satisfied with the resettlement process and are positive and optimistic about their lives as a whole. But…how do they feel about their lives in comparison to the very different world they lived in before relocation? What are the changes they value or regret?

The respondents were asked directly how they felt about life now compared with life before resettlement. The overwhelming majority think that life has got much better, and that the vulnerable households are even more likely to feel this way than the non-vulnerable—no vulnerable households felt that life had got worse.

Finally, the households were asked to list up to two things that had got better and two things that had got worse on the plateau—although some of them couldn’t think of anything. In a way this is the most interesting information the survey provides. These responses have changed as conditions have evolved, but the most recent findings show some of the challenges facing the resettlers today.

The improvement in the standard of housing, roads and community buildings on the plateau relative to the situation before resettlement, and to most rural Lao communities, is obvious to anyone who visits. The survey shows that the resettlers also appreciate these benefits of the NT2 project. They also value improvements to education and health facilities. A few mention employment—some as a positive, others as a negative. Before the project the only significant employment opportunities were as civil servants or small-scale traders. During the construction period many households were able to take advantage of paid employment, and this was reflected in the fact that a significant number of households valued this improvement in 2006. Now that the construction phase of the project is largely complete, these opportunities are no longer available—which could be what several households view as a deterioration in employment. However, it is also clear that the new roads and businesses have generated an improvement in access to wage employment relative to the baseline. This is probably what some households are thinking of when they mention employment as a positive change.

The Participatory Land Use Planning process will help to identify potential land use for households, including second generation resettlers (PLUP village discussion, Nakai, December 2009. Photo: ADB courtesy)

The resettlers’ reports of what has got worse capture some of the challenges facing the project, and emphasize the importance of addressing these issues. Many are concerned about access to agricultural land and forests. Interestingly, community discussions held as part of the ongoing Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP) process suggest that resettlers are concerned not only about land access now, but also about having sufficient land to pass down to the next generation, which is an important part of Lao culture. The Participatory Land Use Planning process will help to identify potential land use for households, including second generation resettlers. In addition, improvements in agricultural productivity, using crop rotation and fertilizer to generate impressive yields on even relatively poor quality land (to be discussed in a future blog) may be able to assuage some of the concerns about land quality.

The concern about access to forests and forest resources relates largely to the collection of non-timber-forest-products (NTFPs). Before resettlement the villages were highly dependent on NTFPs for food and cash income, especially during the agricultural low period. Information from the PLUP and the LSMS survey show that households continue to collect a variety of NTFPs—they have the right to use the land of the Village Forestry Association for this purpose. But many complain that fewer NTFPs are available, and that they have to travel further to access them. This information on household concerns helps to emphasize the importance of making up for any loss in access. Potential approaches include developing community forestry management arrangements that would allow resettlers to continue developing and accessing forest resources on a sustainable basis is one approach alongside continuing the diversification of livelihoods into new opportunities.

A few households have expressed more unusual concerns that nonetheless have given important pointers for adaptive management. For instance, during rounds 2 and 3 of the survey a number of households expressed concern about lack of grazing land for buffalo, which become a problem due to unsustainable numbers of buffalo on the plateau. An additional concern was reported about “lack of freedom and dependency”. Although only mentioned by one household, this is an important reminder that the aim is for these households to establish their own livelihoods and not become dependent on the project for support.

About the NT2 project and socioeconomic monitoring systems

The NT2 project required the damming of the Nam Theun river and the creation of a reservoir that has flooded large areas of the Nakai plateau, leading to the physical relocation of 17 villages by April 2008. However, this physical relocation was just the first step in the resettlement process. The key challenge now is to ensure that the 6,200 people who were resettled because of the reservoir develop new and better livelihoods—and do so in a sustainable fashion—meeting the high-level commitments made in the project’s Concession Agreement (CA).

The project has invested in strong socioeconomic monitoring systems to track progress in meeting the CA commitments, although it’s far too early to judge whether the objectives have been achieved and livelihoods are sustainable. This series of blogs uses some of that evidence to give insights into how the resettlers are doing so far and the challenges they still face in improving their livelihoods. By presenting this information a bit at a time we hope to slowly build up a comprehensive picture of the resettlement process, with all its complexities, complications and surprises.


Submitted by Phoutthasinh on
Hi, Based on the survey about people concern on what got better and worse: _Got better_ (top 4): Housing Roads and community buildings Education Healthcare _Got worse_ (top 4): Access to forest and NTFPs Access to land and quality of land Access to water or river Employment Can you help me analyzing the lost and benefits from the NT2 to livelihood sustainability of rural household based on the above information? Sincerely, Phoutthasinh

Dear Phoutthasinh, Thank you so much for posting your comment on my blog- I was starting to feel a little lonely here! I think your excellent question goes to the heart of the challenges facing NT2. In my opinion, the improvement in infrastructure and services is an impressive achievement. It is clear that households value health, education and quality of life as well as income. In order to make sure that the resettlers see themselves as better off in the long term, it is essential that this infrastructure is maintained, and that high quality services continue to be provided. Now that they are happy with these physical investments, however, the answers to “what got worse” show that the resettlers are starting to think about the complicated issues of livelihoods and their sustainability. Although you note that wage employment is one of the top 4 concerns, in fact only 12 resettlers mention this. Employment was important during the project’s construction phase, but it is unlikely to provide a sustainable livelihood source for many of the resettled households- formal wage jobs employ only a tiny proportion of the Lao workforce, and Nakai is still a relatively remote rural area. Even if off-farm livelihoods develop rapidly (i.e. if the potential for tourism on the plateau can be explored), they are likely to provide more opportunities for small-scale household businesses than for formal employment. The sustainability of livelihoods therefore remains dependent on natural resources: forests, agricultural land and water. In this context there are two main challenges for achieving sustainable livelihoods. Firstly, the resettlers need to feel secure about the resources available to them in their new environment. Secondly, the resettlers are in the process of adapting to a very new environment. This involves a complicated and gradual process of social and behavioural change, for example as they move to new techniques appropriate to the land and resources at their disposal, such as crop rotation and fertilizer use, and diversify their livelihood sources. I’m personally very interested in this transition, and we’re in the process of analyzing some of the data that gives insights into how it’s going. Finally, I think it is important to note that these concerns are not particular to the villagers in Nakai but in fact are mirrored in other Lao communities. In the national LECS survey, for example, many rural village leaders talked about lack of land as a constraint to growing incomes. But, interestingly, even more mentioned lack of irrigation and infertile land. In the most remote areas lack of market access and transport were noted as a problem, but lack of jobs appeared to matter a lot less. Villagers there were more likely to be concerned about natural disasters, particularly pests and animal disease. As a post script, note that I’ve only presented the results from May/June 2009. It is also interesting to see how the perceptions of resettlers have changed over time. During the transitional period, for example, a few households said that housing and infrastructure had deteriorated (although even at this point many more said that it had improved). Now that concern has largely been dealt with, and since impoundment, households are starting to think more about their access to land and forest products.

Submitted by phoutthasinh on
Hi, Thank you very much for your response, very much appreciated shaing your thoughts. I agree with you that sustainability of livelihood depend very much on natural resources. The latest NTFPs handbook in 2010 ( shows that income from NTFPs at the village level is in between 1/3 -1/2 of the total income; or over 300$ per household per year. If the farmers are no longer access to NTFPs because there is no longer the forest (already flooded); if there are less cultivated land for agriculture; if the quality of the water and water resources is not the same; then we need to find a new income source for them in the long term. The question then would be what realistic job could be in the future? NT2 must have a realistic strategy and workplan on that, not just to build insfrustructure that only look cool for visitors. I think we need to be honest about the situtation because it is still too early to concluded that resettled people that made way to the NT2 already have a better lives; they are very happy; when their consumption is so far given by the project and their income are not sustainable; when the visible improvement is only the infrustructures. By the way, how long have you been living in Laos? I am wondering how many more years do you need in order to get a local job (probably in the resettle areas) without the WB paying for you? luckily that you are educated and probably have some saving to start with while the resetllers don't have that. Thanks again for your comments and I am looking to learn more from you, Sincerely, Phoutthasinh

Dear Phoutthasinh, Thanks for your reply, I am so happy to see a proper debate around these issues! You are right that the resettled households need to find sustainable income sources. This is the central goal of the project’s Concession Agreement. Judging whether livelihoods are sustainable (and even defining what sustainable means) is not straightforward for this or any other project- I’m going to talk about this in more detail in a future blog. But, briefly, you are right that it can’t be judged now for two main reasons: 1. It’s not true that all the consumption of the households is “given” by the project. The households do continue to receive significant support, but this does not make up a significant proportion of consumption for most households. In fact households are moving more and more towards income sources, like fishing, that are not dependent on the presence of the project. The support that remains is mostly focused around helping households establish their new livelihoods- inputs like fertilizer and extension advice, and it is only the most vulnerable households that continue to receive rice support. 2. Perhaps more importantly, in my view, the households are still adapting to a very new environment- the reservoir was only impounded in early 2008. It will take time for them to establish their livelihoods. Because of this, I would like to emphasize again that the information I am presenting in these blogs can only be seen as an update on progress. Things could change, for better or worse, along the way. Part of the reason for collecting all this data is for adaptive management- a process of adjusting project implementation to shifting realities on the ground - so that the project is ready to react to these changes. Of course the data is also going to be used to assess whether or not the households meet the income targets set out in the Concession Agreement. This will be assessed five years after resettlement- giving the households time to establish livelihoods that work in the new environment, and for the resources they rely on, such as fish stocks in the reservoir, to reach a steady state. A variety of other sources of information will also be used to assess the sustainability of livelihoods (i.e. are households taking on high levels of debt or selling off assets in order to maintain consumption?). The ultimate judgment will rest with the Resettlement Committee, with advice from the International Environmental and Social Panel of Experts, and will not be made solely on the basis of consumption levels.

Dear Phoutthasinh, One some of the specific points you raise about water, land and forests: Water: In fact only a few households (15) mentioned access to water, and further investigation is needed to judge what their exact concern was. In terms of livelihoods, almost all households on the plateau have been fishing successfully in the reservoir, benefitting from a boom in fish stocks to earn both monetary income and for their own consumption. There are many more fish available than before relocation, when they used to fish in small forest pools and streams. Some have done very well indeed. I’ll be discussing this in a bit more detail in a future blog. Forest: Thanks for the document on NTFPs in Lao PDR. While I have been taking Lao lessons since my arrival I my reading isn’t quite good enough yet to read these types of documents in Lao language- is there an English translation available? It looks interesting, and I was just wondering about your comment on (one of?) the findings. Was the income taking into account own consumption, or just monetary income? In any case, other data certainly confirm the high levels of dependence on natural resources highlighted by the report you mention. I’m going to present a bit more on NTFPs and forests in a future blog so won’t discuss in detail here. But you’re certainly right that it is important to look at the NTFPs villagers collect in the Village Forestry Association land and whether anything can be done to enhance their access. It is important to note, however, that as households are moving towards other sources of food and livelihoods such as fish so their dependence on forest products is decreasing. Agricultural land: This remains a key part of the project’s livelihood strategy. I hope to talk about this next in the blog, thinking not just about the amount of land households are farming, but also about productivity, and how they are starting to adopt new techniques, such as crop rotation and applying fertilizer. Thanks and best wishes, Nina

Submitted by Arish on
Nina, These are all an excellent series of blogs - all very thought provoking, and really useful. It is striking that around 85% of people feel their lives are 'much better' after the resettlement (is this really true??!!!). I am not familiar with the project, and I was wondering what you might recommend as more detailed reading on the entire resettlement planning and implementation procedure for the 17 villages, and on what the underlying principles that framed the resettlement strategy were. Also, how would you weight the various issues of concern in the 'concerns of households' survey? Who designed and carried out the survey? I share your concern about livelihoods and socio-cultural change in the transition process. Good to know you are going to be analyzing more data on this. However, living in Laos and presumably being very close to the situation - what is your own intuitive or gut sense of what was lost and what was gained, and what could have been done differently? How do you think different age groups feel about the transition? Also in addition to surveying the villagers for 'data' has there been any thought of interviewing them for 'stories'? Please keep writing! Thanks, Arish

Submitted by Sonny Ostberg on
Dear Arish, God question re. what different age groups might feel about the transition... And how about men and women... do they answer different? Best regards, Sonny

Dear Arish, Thanks so much for your comment! For an overview of the project you could have a look at the World Bank’s NT2 website,, but for more detailed reading on the resettlement planning and implementation you might want to look at the Social Development Plan (SDP), which is publically available on the NTPC website, The LSMS survey was designed by consultants to the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC), with advice from experts in LSMS design at the World Bank, and in consultation with some of the project’s oversight bodies. The data is collected by a team at Khon Kaen University (KKU), including academics in sociology and economics, who have experience working in Lao (KKU is located in the Isan region of Thailand, that shares many linguistic and cultural similarities with Lao PDR). They organize and supervise a team of locally recruited enumerators. The data is then entered (triple blind) by a local Vientiane firm. There has been a fair bit of more qualitative work done, including as part of focus groups on psycho-social issues and the Participatory Land Use Planning process.

I was also struck by how positive the resettlers seem to be. When I went to observe the survey in the field last May/June I tried to probe a bit more. Partly I think that Lao people tend to be positive about things. But they also genuinely perceive themselves to be better off in their new environment. This doesn’t surprise me- most of the information I've seen suggests that life in the old villages was pretty hard. At the same time it is clear that they do have anxieties around livelihoods. I think this is very understandable. Establishing sustainable livelihoods in this new environment is a long term process- and it will take time for them to build confidence. We have to remember, after all, that the inundation of the reservoir happened only 2 years ago- roughly 1 year before the LSMS survey took place. There is one other thing I noticed while observing the survey that I think affects the way we can interpret these data. Most of the people responding to this survey were women- they are most likely to be around when the enumerators visit. The men were often out fishing at the start of the interview, and after nosing around a bit, most went off to sleep when they returned home (the best time to fish is at night or very early in the morning), leaving their wives to respond to the questionnaire. This may be affecting the responses. For example, men might be less likely to value improvements in access to water, because there weren’t responsible for the arduous task of collecting it in the old village. Obviously it would be nice to collect this information from all family members, and the enumerators do try to do this. But in practice the questionnaire is long (sometimes it takes more than a day to complete) and it isn’t fair to interrupt the household’s schedule so much- we can’t, for example, expect them to pull children out of school to answer our questions. So I think we just need to bear this in mind while we’re looking at the data and perhaps think of alternative ways of covering people who don’t get covered by the LSMS. This is particularly important for the issue you mention of differences between age groups, and this is something I’d like to look at in a bit more detail. To be honest, I don’t have a very good sense of this right now, and I think it’s really important to find out. Do the young people see their futures on the plateau, or are they keen to move out and take up opportunities elsewhere? I think we might need to use different techniques to do this, perhaps some more informal focus groups, held at schools or elsewhere. This might also help the young people to speak out a bit more. When younger people were interviewed they often seemed quite nervous, particularly the young women, about speaking in front of the elders. Anyway, thanks for your questions! Nina

Dear Sonny, Thanks for your question! I would also like to look more carefully into this. Most of the questions in the LSMS are about household-level variables (income, consumption etc.), so this is one of the sections where we are best able to look at differences between individuals. In round 5, 152 men answered this section, and 242 women. The men were slightly more likely to say that life was "much better" (89% vs 86%), whereas 11% of women said it was "better", and 2% "the same". However, these differences are not statistically significant, so it is hard to tell whether this represents any real difference in the way men and women have experienced resettlement. In terms of things that have got better, it seems that men and women appreciate similar improvements. There is a slight difference in their concerns. For men the numbers reporting land and access to forest products as factors that had got worse are very close (53 and 65), whereas for women more report concerns around forest products (70 for land and 105 for forest products). As well as continuing to dig into this with the LSMS, I know that a lot of the qualitative work and consultations have attempted to give voice to women and capture their perspectives. In particular the Participatory Land Use Planning ran separate men's and women's groups. I'd be interested to see some of the results emerging from that, which might help us find out what is behind these differences. For example, do women have a greater role in collecting NTFPs, or is the difference simply driven by statistical effects?

Submitted by Sonny Ostberg on
Dear Nina, Thanks for your answer re. if men and women feel differently about the resettlement? Best regards, Sonny

Dear all, Hope you have enjoyed the blog so far. I am happy to see that it is generating a lively debate around these issues! Next week is Lao New Year so I'll be taking a break from blogging to throw water over people etc. So, for now, SOK DEE PI MAI!!! Nina

Submitted by Janka on
Dear Nina, I just read your blog on NT2 and the resettlement villages. Though the last article was in 2010, I was wondering whether you were still working in Lao PDR dealing with NT2? Since I am currently doing research in this field, it would be great to get in touch with you. If you'd send me your contact details, I could explain to you in more detail what I am working on. Many thanks in advance and looking forward to hearing from you, Janka

Add new comment