Viet Nam's Song Bung 4 Hydropower: Impact on Women

Though the Song Bung 4 hydropower dam and energy project relocated Co Tu minority in Viet Nam’s central region, it also offered new income opportunities and empowered local women.


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: Shaping the future, counting on people

Quang Nam, Central Viet Nam - Alang Piem, 29, grew up in a traditional village of the Co Tu ethnic minority in Central Viet Nam. Earning a meager living from scouring the mountains for firewood, she lived in a bare house without electricity, water, or a toilet.

But earlier this year Piem, her husband Boi, and their three-year-old son Phuoc, moved into a new home, along with 53 other families. They relocated from Thon 2 Village due to construction of the Song Bung 4 hydropower dam. Moving was not easy, but the families did not have to travel too far from their old village, and they are still in the region the Co Tu community has called home for generations. Even better, says Piem, life has improved as a result.

“Life at the resettlement site is more than 10 times better than before,” she says.

New lives with a touch of tradition

“My husband designed this house … I like it - especially the new kitchen.”

- Alang Piem, 29, ethnic minority villager

Her new home, built in Co Tu style, is a marriage of tradition and modernity. “My husband designed this house,” she says. “I like it - especially the new kitchen.”

Piem cooks with a gas stove, uses an electric rice cooker, and has clean, running water on hand. These days, she even drives a motorbike upland to collect wood.

Initially, the government proposed building concrete houses for the villagers, but during consultations, the community spoke up in favor of traditional wooden houses. The villagers also wanted each household to be able to choose the layout for their own home.

Opportunities for women

The Song Bung 4 hydropower dam, financed with support from ADB, is essential to filling the energy gap in Central Viet Nam, but it also requires the relocation of more than 1,000 people.

Apart from providing new homes, ADB aimed to ensure the resettlement process was socially inclusive and gender sensitive. This is where the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction stepped in, providing a $2 million grant for training and programs to help improve women’s livelihoods and job prospects.

In March this year, Piem joined a Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction training program to learn plumbing. Although plumbing and maintenance work are not typical female jobs in Viet Nam, the training course sets aside two of four slots for women.

“It is not common for women to be plumbers here in Viet Nam, but when I heard that the project offered it, I wanted to try,” says Piem.

Having completed the course, Piem and her fellow plumbers now regularly conduct maintenance of equipment and pipes from the village dam to the main water tank, ensuring the village always has a steady supply of clean water. Piem is also able to earn a little extra income whenever local households need repairs on their water systems.

Fish farming is another opportunity to generate income for Piem and other women in the resettled villages. With start-up funds from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, Piem built a roughly 5-meter long, 2-meter wide pond to keep fish. In Co Tu villages, it is the women’s role to take charge of fish farming.

Gender policies yield results

Bling Nhien, the 29-year-old head of the Women’s Union in another affected community, Parum A, says that women’s roles are changing.  “Women are working in different areas now. Agricultural workers are women and our new village leader is a woman.”

The recently appointed first female leader of Parum A, 38-year-old Alang Afo says the changes have come about as a result of the social policies associated with the Song Bung 4 project - particularly its emphasis on gender inclusiveness.

“Women became very active in the resettlement process … Most of the participants at the village resettlement meetings and consultations are women.”

- Alang Afo, 38, village head, Parum A

When the project needed to pay compensation for lost land or livelihoods, it helped husbands and wives to set up separate bank accounts to ensure they were involved in the decision-making on an equal footing.

“Women became very active in the resettlement process,” says Afo. “Most of the participants at the village resettlement meetings and consultations are women.” 

Indeed, the Village Resettlement Committee, led by Afo, is working closely with the Song Bung 4 project staff, meeting with the project management board to discuss progress and make sure their voices are heard in decisions on the construction of the resettlement site.

“Based on our requests, the project changed the layout of the village,” she says. “I feel our opinions are taken into consideration. If there are problems, we often solve them with the project team.”

“Song Bung 4 shows that if resettlement is conducted properly, it can improve the prospects for both men and women,” says ADB Viet Nam Country Director Tomoyuki Kimura, who adds that empowering women is crucial to the success of major development projects. 

Alang Piem, with her plumber’s spanner, motorbike, and fishing net, must certainly have reason to be optimistic.