|Fishing in the Nam Lik reservoire.|
During the fieldwork we visited five villages within a 20 km radius of the district capital where we stayed. Two of them were located along the river Nam Lik and were affected by a nearby dam. In the third village lived people who were resettled there after Nam Ngum II dam project forced them to leave their previous homes. The last two villages were located in the mountains and were inhabited by Hmongs, one of the numerous ethnic minorities in Laos. On our field trip we were accompanied by Mr. Saithong Phommavong, who served not only as an interpreter but also as an invaluable guide to the region.
In each of the villages four interview sessions were arranged: one with the village head man, one with a focus group of 4–6 persons and two with individuals of different backgrounds. The themes of the interviews were livelihoods, environmental change, energy and future development. The interviewees were reached through the village head man and a district official, who chose suitable people according to our criteria. We were particularly interested in hearing the views of women and people who defined their livelihood as poor or sufficient. In addition to interviewing, data was gathered through ethnographic observation.
Though the data we collected in the villages is waiting to be analysed in detail, some observations can already be stated. Concerning environmental change, we noted that the Nam Lik dam had not affected people’s livelihoods as extensively as we expected. Still the quality of the water had deteriorated and it could not be used for bathing or household purposes anymore. The smell of the water was striking. The quality of fish was worse, too. Moreover, most of the villages had already experienced frequent unseasonal weather conditions in past years and were worried about storms. In the resettlement village we also saw some of the effects that environmental change in the form of a major dam project can have on people’s lives. Some people had adapted their occupations to the new conditions but others trying to go on with only rice cultivation were more unfortunate.
Regarding energy and livelihoods, all of the villages we visited were connected to a grid. Even the poorest in the villages had access to electricity. If they did not have their own meter, they shared one with their neighbour. From the livelihood point of view, electricity proved to be most widely utilised in activities located at home, such as in weaving and in cooking. We did, however, also come across some less popular but interesting uses of electricity, such as fish raising. The most common service provided by electricity was, by far, lighting.
Focus group in the Hmong village of Nong Por.
Heidi Tuhkanen and Riikka Yliluoma