Resettlement Practices: Experiences at Xiaolangdi and Nam Theun II

An adaptive approach is being used to resettle people displaced by construction of 1,836-MW Xiaolangdi in China and 1,070-MW Nam Theun 2 in Laos. The results and lessons learned during resettlement of more than 190,000 people affected by these two projects can be valuable for developers of other hydropower projects throughout the world.

By Chaohua Zhang
senior social sector specialist for World Bank.

The Xiaolangdi Resettlement Project and the Nam Theun II Social Environment Project are World Bank-financed reservoir resettlement operations.

They were designed as free-standing operations to address the resettlement and environmental impacts of two major investments involving dam building.

The Xiaolangdi project was a resettlement and livelihood rehabilitation program for 185,000 people under the 1,836-MW Xiaolangdi Multi-purpose Dam Project on the Yellow River in China. It was implemented between 1993 and 2004 at a cost of US$840 million.

The Nam Theun project includes a resettlement and rehabilitation program of 6,200 indigenous people and the environment management program under the 1,070-MW Nam Theun II Hydroelectric Project in Laos.

Implementation began in 2005 and is still under way.

Dynamic factors in resettlement planning

Large reservoir resettlement and rehabilitation programs can take years to plan and implement. The Xiaolangdi project spanned 15 years from the World Bank’s formal engagement for preparation to its completion.

During this period, particularly after initiation of implementation, resettlement programs would face changes in social, economic, political, and institutional fronts. These changes could have significant implications for resettlement programming and implementation.

Xiaolangdi resettlement faced early challenges

Rural industrial development was booming in China in the early 1990s when the Xiaolangdi resettlement project was prepared. At the request of affected villages and local governments, the project designed and included a rural industrial component to create non-farm employment for the resettlers. Technical and financial analysis as well as market risk assessment was conducted for each proposed enterprise. However, as the macro economic situation changed, risks of market failures and employment insecurity for the resettlers increased. The industrial resettlement component was significantly scaled back and was largely replaced eventually with an agriculture-based resettlement program. This was a major change in the resettlement program, requiring a full scale of consultation with the villages involved and additional technical work.

Local political and institutional development could introduce new factors or players into the planning and implementation process. They could join the planning process with new perspectives and requests.

The Xiaolangdi resettlement project experienced a major institutional change in rural China during its implementation. China started piloting direct elections for village administration in the late 1980s and formalized it under the “Villager Committee Organization Law” issued in 1998.

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The 1,836-MW Xiaolangdi project on China’s Yellow River included a resettlement and livelihood rehabilitation program for 185,000 people.

This law and the direct village elections every three years changed drastically political dynamics at village level. New players such as big families and powerful individuals became more prominent in village politics, vying for village power and control through the elections.

Community consensus and decisions became more difficult. Some newly elected village administrations challenged and reversed resettlement decisions and agreements reached under previous village administrations and requested revisiting of the resettlement programs for their villages. These were accommodated and taken into consideration as part of the program optimization process.

Community decision-making is a dynamic process

There are many factors at play in community decision-making and they can sometimes take on entirely different perspectives from resettlement planners. In the resettlement planning and implementation process, it is quite common that resettler households or communities change their views, reverse early decisions or put up new requests.

Resettlement programming must recognize village dynamics and incorporate it into the planning process. In the Nam Theun project, for example, the Vietic households in Village Ban Sophia reversed their early agreement to move to the identified resettlement site before movement and requested to stay close to their old village site.

Many rounds of consultations eventually produced an agreement over their resettlement option. Similarly, for a number of reasons, including grievances and conflicts among families of different clans, groups of households in some villages in Xiaolangdi project withdrew their agreements to move to the resettlement sites and insisted on staying close to the reservoir where livelihood sustainability was a huge challenge. Various options were explored and studied before a separate resettlement program was adopted in participation with the households involved.

Before Xiaolangdi and Nam Theun, resettlement programs followed a “blue-print” approach for resettlement planning. This is a rigid process ignoring the need for community participation and the dynamic factors involved. Its focus was on resettlement site development, infrastructure reconstruction, and physical relocation rather than livelihood development. A development approach for resettlement requires resettlement planning to be open, consultative, inclusive, and adaptive.

Project experiences

Resettlement planning should follow a participatory approach. Lessons from past resettlement experiences all point to lack of community participation as one key factor for resettlement failures. Experiences from the two projects show that, in order for a resettlement program to be successfully planned, implemented and sustainable, resettlement planning should follow a participatory approach by not only giving the communities a chance to listen and be heard, but also by giving them a role in the decision-making process of resettlement planning.

To make the process participatory, information sharing is fundamental. Both projects adopted various measures to disseminate information among the displaced villages. In Xiaolangdi, every resettler household was issued two household books, one recording household inventory impacts and one on household entitlement. Every resettlement village established a “transparency wall” where village resettlement information and village affairs were disclosed. A resettlement newspaper was also in circulation among, disclosing resettlement policies, programs and progress updates.

In Nam Theun II, to help with information dissemination and make the process meaningful and effective, visual aids were developed and used for consultation with the villagers, including posters, graphs, pictures and charts. Many site visits were organized for the villagers in the selection of resettlement sites.

One feature of the participatory approach is the continuous engagement with the displaced communities where consultations are repeated until a satisfactory solution is arrived at. This process cuts across all resettlement planning and design phases.

Community feedback is essential

As resettlement planning and design deepens, more planning and design details become available. They need to be shared with the communities for their feedback for final adoption. Similarly, in the same interactive process, communities’ recommendations and requests were in turn reviewed for technical assessment before they were incorporated in the resettlement action plans. This is a continuous interactive process and requires continuous engagement with the communities.

In both resettlement projects, the displaced communities played an important role in the resettlement planning and implementation process. Their inputs are fundamental in shaping the overall resettlement and livelihood rehabilitation strategy, and delivering the outcome on the ground.

In Nam Theun II, the overall resettlement strategy was adopted in favor of the preference of the resettler communities. Initial screening and assessment presented three possible resettlement options. One was moving into the irrigation command areas away from the plateau reservoir area.

The second was moving just down the plateau for farmland based resettlement and the third option was staying at the southern edge of the reservoir on the plateau. The plateau option, technically more challenging from livelihood restoration point of view, was favored by the affected population due to their strong cultural attachment. Various technical surveys, studies and assessment were carried out to examine the carrying capacity of the local areas and the feasibility of livelihood options against the resettlement objective. This option was eventually adopted.

One aim of participatory planning approach should be community ownership of the resettlement program. The displaced communities are the primary stakeholders and the program can only be sustainable if they eventually own the program.

In Xiaolangdi, the villagers, organized under the village committees, actually implemented the village resettlement action. All decisions regarding village infrastructure, livelihood development schemes and investment of land compensation funds were made in the village councils.

In Nam Theun II, under the guidance and assistance of the project office, the villagers allocated the residential plots according to the village layout plan endorsed by them, and participated in the site and house plot preparation.

Planning is often phased following engineering designs

Depending on the size and characteristics of the hydropower project, it is common practice for project resettlement planning to follow a phase approach. Xiaolangdi and Nam Theun II represent different programming approaches.

Nam Theun II has three different components with resettlement and land acquisition impacts. They are the Nakai Reservoir area with inundation impacts, the project lands areas with land acquisition impact that require livelihood rehabilitation program and the downstream areas where flooding, fishery and asset impacts need to be addressed.

The Social Development Action, developed before the project appraisal, contains a general resettlement framework. The detailed planning for resettlement and livelihood restoration activities in the three areas follow their respective schedule, depending on the varying progress of the engineering designs. Detailed action plans and designs were prepared separately for the three areas.

In Xiaolangdi, under a general resettlement action, detailed planning of resettlement and rehabilitation was sliced into four phases by elevation. Its phased resettlement planning was scheduled out as part of the overall project program.

Detailed resettlement planning is an incremental process

With the many dynamic factors, detailed planning for resettlement and livelihood rehabilitation is an incrementally deepening and detailing process where resettlement planning moves from a general resettlement feasibility study to area-specific detailed planning and village-wise action plans.

This is an incremental process of resettlement programs being gradually adjusted and optimized following continuous consultation with the displaced communities. It requires openness and flexibility to take various developing factors into consideration, particularly feedback from the affected communities. Xiaolangdi and Nam Theun II generally followed the same approach, but tailored to their own characteristics.

The Xiaolangdi program was planned into four phases and its detailed planning and implementation was completed in succession between 1993 and 2004. Before the World Bank appraisal of the project, there was a general project resettlement plan covering all phases of the project.

This general resettlement plan was developed into resettlement action plans for each phase. In the phased resettlement action plans, project impacts for that phase, early planning assumptions, and resettlement agreements were reviewed again and confirmed with all key stakeholders.

The phased resettlement action plans were further developed into village-wise resettlement implementation plans. They covered 1) final village layout designs, 2) housing and relocation arrangements, 3) infrastructure and community buildings, 4) farmland allocations to households, and 5) other income-generation activities.

During this process, with continuous adjustment and optimizing with input from the villagers, the project resettlement program gradually “grew” from a general framework into many detailed village-wise action plans that were eventually put to implementation.

Villages choose new locations

The Nam Theun II resettlement program follows the same approach. Take its Nakai Reservoir Resettlement Program for example. The government and the developer, with assistance from international financial institutions, prepared a resettlement action plan for the reservoir area.

It is included in the NT2 Social Development Action Plan. This action plan is an overall framework for the resettlement program. It describes the overall project impacts, the legal policy framework, strategy and approach for resettlement and livelihood restoration, management framework and implementation arrangements including monitoring and supervision.

As the project started implementation, the resettlement program moved into its detailed planning. In the process, most villages confirmed their early decision, some villages chose new locations, and some decided to join other villages. With the site option finalized, the detailed planning moved into specific-site designs, including village layout, infrastructure and community buildings and facilities.

Its livelihood program followed the same incremental process. It includes four key components — community forestry, reservoir fishery, agricultural, and livestock. The resettlement action plan examined the technical feasibility of these options for the entire reservoir area and designed a livelihood menu of core options for all villages.

As new village sites were determined and village boundaries established, a village-wise land resource mapping was carried out. On the basis of these, the project office has proposed a different mix of land-based agricultural activities and cropping patterns for the villagers.

At the same time, the livestock component is also being developed from a general strategy into village-specific livestock programs. For this purpose, the project checked on the grazing potentials of each new village, the size of their animal stock and started working with the owning households on the grazing alternatives.

Nam Theun II has committed to livelihood improvement of every resettler household as its resettlement objective. This objective would require the government and the developer to work at household level to assist them in their livelihood activities. The project office has stationed livelihood staff members in the villages.

They are working with the resettler households, helping them in the selection and execution of their livelihood activities, providing technical advice, extension services and closely monitoring its implementation.

Community input crucial to resettlement planning

Resettlement planning builds on both specialist expertise as well as community input. It is a process where technical expertise and community knowledge and desires are shared, reviewed and eventually adopted in the development of a resettlement program.

In the entire resettlement planning process, from establishing the resettlement and rehabilitation strategy to the design of a resettlement site and village livelihood options, experts of various fields provide the technical basis to initiate the detailed planning and public consultation process.

This technical input comes from field technical surveys, investigation and assessment. It needs to be shared with the displaced communities for their comments and recommendations so that local knowledge and their preferences are incorporated into the program designs to make sure that the program designs are not only technically feasible but also socially and culturally appropriate and acceptable.

On the other hand, villagers’ preference and requests, brought out through the consultation process, will also need to be reviewed for technical feasibility. Through this interactive process, a resettlement program will eventually materialize when consensus is achieved among the experts and displaced communities. This interactive planning process is repeated throughout the program’s implementation, from preparation of a general resettlement action plan to village-specific resettlement designs.

Project lessons

The Xiaolangdi and Nam Theun II experiences are not unique. They merely mirror the development elements that are recognized and in practice in many development investments. Their experiences highlight the following key lessons:

— Understanding the dynamics is fundamental for resettlement program management;

— Maintaining a technical critical mass is essential for resettlement planning;

— Community participation is key to resettlement success; and

— Commitment on financial resources is fundamental.

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