Preserving ecosystem services

Communities in Central Viet Nam earn money to patrol in forested watershed catchments

In Viet Nam and other countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, hydropower is promoted as an alternative to fossil-fuel based power, central to solving the subregion’s energy supply challenges. Hundreds of dams have been constructed across Viet Nam, as it races to keep pace with galloping demand for electricity, which is growing annually by 14%.

However, the surge in hydropower plants over the past ten years is not without controversy. The dams have resulted in a wide range of problems, including flooding, forest loss, and environmental destruction. The impact on displaced people is another concern, with conditions in resettlement areas often worse than their original lands.  

A Ral Son and A Lang T’koot, middle-aged farmers and ethnic Co Tu minority, were resettled in 2006 to make way for the 210-megawatt (MW) A Vuong hydropower project in Quang Nam province. Sitting in front of their cinderblock stilt house in Thou Ta Reng, the village built by the government in the nearby mountains, the couple cast their minds back to those antediluvian times.

“Swidden fields were abundant,” recalls A Ral Son, who is 53. “We slashed and burned to grow upland rice varieties that matured in 3 months. Lowland rice paddies were abundant too. We raised livestock free range.” However, isolation and the lack of basic amenities locked most residents in poverty.

Then came the flood, drowning the paddies, swidden fields, and forests behind the 83-meter-high dam. A Ral Son and A Lang T’koot were among the 1,100 A Vuong residents who moved to make way for the reservoir. In Thou Ta Reng, most resettled households were allocated 1.2 ha of land, part of which they use to rotate one season of upland rice with two seasons of fallow. Most resettled families appreciated the modern amenities of their new home—all-weather roads, electricity, clinics, and schools—but have struggled with the lack of livelihood opportunities.

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Project page: Support for the National Roll Out of Payments for Forest Environmental Services and Benefit Sharing Mechanisms in Viet Nam