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.
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.