Improving Resettled Lives

Article | 13 May 2008

Asian Development Bank (ADB) project helping improve living conditions for resettled ethnic minorities in Viet Nam

When Vang Thi Bich and her family were relocated to the Huoi Long resettlement site in Lai Chau province in Viet Nam in 2005 to make way for the Son La hydropower project, much of their way of life changed.

"We used to farm in wetlands in our previous village, and now at the resettlement site the soil type is different. We are not familiar with paddy cultivation in this type of soil," she says.

The multibillion-dollar, government-financed hydropower project will help Viet Nam meet its increasing demand for energy once the project is completed in 2015, but it will displace more than 20,206 families - mainly ethnic minority people from Son La, Dien Bien, and Lai Chau provinces. While the Government has approved $687 million for a resettlement plan, its planning and implementation suffers from many problems.

A due diligence report conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the project's resettlement revealed that the Government needed capacity building support in planning and implementing such a large and complex resettlement plan, particularly in the area of livelihood restoration. The due diligence report was prepared for an ADB loan for the Northern Power Transmission Expansion Sector Project, which will transmit power from the Son La hydropower plant and from other power stations.

"Livelihood restoration is often the weakest part of any resettlement plan," explains Monawar Sultana, an ADB Social Development Specialist. "However, for hydropower projects with significant displacement and loss of livelihood, the need for well-designed and effectively implemented livelihood programs is critical."

Thus, in November 2005, ADB approved a $1 million technical assistance (TA) project, financed by the Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund, to increase the capacity of both resettlement authorities and grassroots stakeholders to develop appropriate livelihood programs for the resettled people.

Critical Needs

At the time the report was being done, more than 9,000 families had already been resettled in 137 resettlement areas in the three provinces. While basic infrastructure - houses, roads, drinking water - was provided, no real and sustainable livelihood programs were in place. "At some of the resettlement sites, people had been there for more than two years, but they were not provided with a livelihood restoration program," says Sultana.

A report produced under the TA indicates poor site selection, the lack of adequate or suitable land for cultivation, suitable crops, and extension for the livelihood development of the resettled families among the challenges that needed to be addressed.

"As part of the development of the resettlement sites, the top soil was destroyed in some areas and is therefore not suitable for growing crops," Sultana says. "The amount of land allocated for agriculture is also insufficient for household subsistence, and non-timber forest products are not available in the resettlement areas." In addition, inadequate attention was given to retaining the traditional way of life of the relocated people.

Over the course of two years, the TA trained government staff on how to select appropriate relocation sites using Geographical Information System (GIS), how to assess soil types and availability of natural resources, and how to plan and implement suitable and sustainable livelihood activities - such as farming and livestock rearing - in the resettlement areas.

"Now we understand the weaknesses of the selection criteria used for the existing resettlement sites in our province," says Le Thi Hua, a government staff from Lai Chau province trained as a Master Trainer on GIS. She is now passing on her knowledge to other GIS trainers in her province.

Better Harvests

At six of the resettlement sites, the TA conducted livelihood development training programs to show the people that their incomes can be restored and their lives rebuilt even with limited and different types of farmland and away from forests, which they have traditionally depended on for subsistence.

"We did not know about pest management since we have not used pesticide before," says Vang Thi Bich, who was one of the 150 families in Huoi Long who benefited from paddy rice rejuvenation and pest management trainings. "After the training, we learned how to use proper pesticide and the right amount of fertilizer in our fields at the resettlement site. We had a much better paddy harvest in 2007."

In Tan Phong Village at the Siphaphin resettlement site, farmer Truong Van Minh also says his paddy production doubled in 2007 from the previous year because of soil rejuvenation training he received.

So that the people in Siphaphin no longer have to borrow rice from private money lenders and pay an exorbitant 120% interest during the dry season, a rice bank was also developed, benefiting 184 poor families. "The poor people of Siphaphin want to thank ADB for helping us not to go hungry in the dry season," says Van Thi Phai, a member of Women's Union in Siphaphin.

At the Muong Bon resettlement sites in Son La, Tong Van Coi, the village leader, says that shifting their produce from corn for cattle feed to vegetables has increased incomes by more than 10 times. Each of the 80 families who participated in the vegetable cultivation training now earn 1.5 million