NT2 - Compensating villagers for direct losses from the project

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ImageAs I made my way down route 13 last week I wondered how many times I had been to Nam Theun 2 since my first visit in October 2006. I’m certainly not one of the people that go there the most, and yet I could recall at least 20 visits.

This time around I went to visit some of the villages along the downstream Xe Bang Fai who are part of the Downstream Program (you can read more about the details of this program here and get updated information through our WB Updates). These villages could be affected by the release of additional water into the Xe Bang Fai (potential impacts include erosion, increased duration of the annual floods, change in water quality, fish losses, and loss of river bank gardens among other things). To go back to Nicholas’ comment on my blog a while back, I’ll give you a glimpse as to what the Downstream Program entails.

The Downstream Program was designed to compensate individuals for direct losses (e.g. for a river bank garden that can no longer be used because of increased water levels) and compensate communities for communal impacts (e.g. for reduced water quality in a communal well or for fish loss).  Compensation might range from replacing river bank garden with household gardens to helping to improve community water and sanitation systems and creating a village fund type system that can help villagers borrow money on favorable terms to invest in livelihood activities (the initial money is provided by NTPC).

Some villagers draw money from the Village Funds provided through the Downstream Program to invest in livestock and/or livestock-related activities. See more photos.
This revolving village fund approach tries to create a mechanism where villagers can get money to invest in various types of activities such as aquaculture, livestock, agriculture, handicrafts, etc. NTPC and District representatives help the villagers learn how to administer those funds and advise them on the technical aspects of the programs they chose to put into practice– how does one keep a pig healthy (and happy) on the banks of the Xe Bang Fai?

By having access to this credit, the villagers can invest in activities and increase their sources of income. The idea is to help villagers establish this system ahead of project impacts so the activities they develop and obtain income from can help cushion any losses such as from reduced fishing. Of course, these funds and this process need to be very closely monitored, since executing it is not as easy as it sounds. But more on that in a future post.

Another aspect from the Downstream Program which I mentioned is “WASH”: Water, Sanitation and Health, which focuses on building infrastructure for health and water services. These include toilets, clean water supply through hand pumps, etc. Such investments generally greatly benefit the health of rural communities which in turn helps them develop from prosperous livelihoods.

Additionally, aspects of the project look at riverbank erosion and whether community buildings are at risk, and it's closely monitored so there's a record of  what erosion looks like prior to NT2 (riverbank erosion is a problem throughout Lao) and after, that way determining what the effects of the project amount to in order to provide a basis for prevention of loss and compensation where it occurs.

I can expand on all these things in future postings. Currently the program is being implemented, so it will be interesting to follow its development.

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