Viet Nam's Song Bung 4 Hydropower: Health Care and Education

A hydropower energy project in Central Viet Nam has disrupted the lives of an isolated ethnic minority, but offers better health care and educational opportunities for a bright future.


By the numbers

15%
annual growth in electricity demand in Viet Nam, at the time the project was initiated
40,000 MW
additional energy capacity that the project will deliver for 2007–2017

Source: Report and Recommendation to the President 2008.


Watch a video: Song Bung 4: Better health care and education

Pa Pang, Central Viet Nam - Arat Thin gazes at the ultrasound images on the computer, and hangs onto the doctor’s every word as he explains how she and her soon-to-be-born baby are faring. It is 22-year-old Thin’s second pregnancy, but it is the first time she has received a pregnancy check-up in her own village in Viet Nam’s remote central region.

The first time she was pregnant, Thin had to walk an entire day along muddy mountain paths to visit a doctor at the nearest health center.

Today, she is receiving modern prenatal attention due - indirectly at least - to the construction of the Song Bung 4 hydropower project. Pa Pang, where Thin grew up, is a host community that has provided land for people who relocated from Thon 2 village to make way for the hydropower project. Today, thanks to the project, the village (now called Pa Pang-Thon 2), has a health center, among other modern amenities that are making life more convenient - and safer.

“I learned that I shouldn’t work so hard in the fields while I’m pregnant, which I didn’t know when I was pregnant with my first child.”

- Arat Thin, 22, ethnic minority villager

“I’m very happy to be able to talk to the doctor,” says Thin. “I learned that I shouldn’t work so hard in the fields while I’m pregnant, which I didn’t know when I was pregnant with my first child.”

Low-impact energy

When it is completed in 2014, the Song Bung 4 hydropower dam will help supply Viet Nam’s growing need for energy. ADB has supplied $196 million from ordinary capital resources for Song Bung 4, the first hydropower project it has supported in Viet Nam.

The project is crucial in terms of meeting power-generation demand for Central Viet Nam, but ADB has also focused on avoiding adverse impacts during the project’s implementation. For the more than 1,000 Co Tu ethnic minority members who have had to resettle, that has meant ensuring that their new homes in Pa Pang, or in one of three other villages, are improvements on their old ones.

Most of the villagers affected by the project have traditionally earned their livings through selling forest products, and through slash-and-burn agriculture. Most struggle on incomes below the national poverty line.

To ensure that the villagers who have been relocated have a better quality of life than they did before, the Song Bung 4 project has subsidized sturdy, new, wooden homes designed and built by the families themselves. The houses have toilets, electricity, and clean water. Pa Pang-Thon 2 - the first of the resettlement sites - has a primary school, a public road connecting it to other towns, along with the healthcare center. The other resettlement centers will also have the same amenities.

Easy access to care

In Pa Pang, the new health center promotes growing awareness of the importance of staying healthy and preventing illness. The center bustles with visitors - children receiving regular vaccinations, the elderly coming for check-ups and consultations, and villagers dropping by to seek help from a health worker assigned by the local government.

“In addition to making regular visits to the health center in the village, I see more people visiting the district health center too, as it is much easier to reach with the new access road.”

- Pham Hong Ha, vice head, district health center

“In addition to making regular visits to the health center in the village, I see more people visiting the district health center too, as it is much easier to reach with the new access road. If villagers have any problems, they seek our advice and get a check-up,” says Pham Hong Ha, vice head of the district health center.

Some older Co Tu villagers do not speak Vietnamese fluently, but that is not an obstacle to benefiting from the new facilities. With the assistance of a grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction for the Song Bung 4 project, selected locals have trained to become village health workers and medical go-betweens.

These go-betweens provide basic services and checkups, and help villagers who need to visit the village or district health centers.

The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction has also provided critical medical equipment and furniture at the Pa Pang-Thon 2 health center.

New school, brighter future

Just across from the health center, dozens of children from Pa Pang-Thon 2 Village are studying at a new primary school, which is also a byproduct of the hydropower project. The airy classrooms - equipped with previously unfamiliar essentials, such as chairs and desks - are a significant improvement on their former study environment. Po Loong Trim, a teacher at the school, says the classrooms have made a huge difference for neighborhood children.

 “Students are much more motivated to come to school and learn. They are very happy to attend school and there’s no more need for me to go looking for them at home anymore,” he says.

Moving to a new home can be disruptive but the Song Bung 4 project is committed to ensuring that resettlement means better lives. “It’s critical that even as we look to meet the country’s electricity needs, that those affected by the new hydropower dam are given better facilities and the opportunity to make better lives for themselves,” says Tomoyuki Kimura, ADB country director for Viet Nam.

One thing is for certain: with care from the local health center, Arat Thin’s new baby will have a much better start in life now that the family is in the new village.