Govt’s settlement initiative deserves support

In his recent trips to provinces hit by floods, Deputy Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone told provincial authorities to stabilise the living conditions of the affected people in an effort to halt the risk posed by annual rainy season floods.
This should be done in line with the Party and government’s Stabilisation of Settlement and Livelihood (SSL) initiative.
Years ago, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party introduced the SSL aiming to resettle villagers living in at-risk areas to new communities where conditions are conducive to development and making a living.
Why is the initiative essential?
There are reasons to justify the initiative. Decades ago, the nation was invaded by foreign forces and colonialists who waged war against the Lao people culminating in the Indochina war. Many people across the country escaped the wars to hide in forests and jungle but struggled to survive.
These people resettled in various at-risk locations including low-lying flood prone valleys which were vulnerable to inundation during the annual rainy season. Floods repeatedly hit these communities again and again with a number of residents killed and injured over the years.
Additionally, many who fled the wars lived in isolated and remote mountainous areas inaccessible to public facilities and services leaving them deprived of the basic services they deserve. Suffering on inadequate farmlands to make a living, nomad farmers have engaged in low-yield slash and burn shifting cultivation.
The government realised it was difficult and even impossible to develop public facilities and infrastructure as well as introduce public services to every small isolated village that were far apart from one another.
As a result, the Party initiated the SSL initiative to group small scattered and isolated villages into big one known as ‘koum ban’ so the government can easily develop public facilities and infrastructure to offer public services to the larger communities. Dispensaries, clean water systems, schools and electricity were among the facilities introduced to the koum ban.
Farmlands are provided and villagers are offered with skills training to enable them to make a better living.
Mr Sonexay, who is also Chairman of the National Ad Hoc Committee in charge of dealing with disasters, told the provincial authorities to stabilise living conditions of the affected people in line with the initiative.
Despite realising that the SSL initiative is essential to improving the living conditions of local villagers, its implementation has been slow due to funding shortages.
Authorities in charge said development partners or donors have been reluctant to provide support and assistance to fund the implementation because they still misunderstood the initiative. They misconstrued that the initiative involved forced relocation.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Lien Thikeo reiterated that resettlement under the SSL has been carried out voluntarily. Put simply, people volunteered to move into new larger communities after they learned that others who previously joined the scheme enjoyed better living standards.
Speaking to the National Assembly’s 5th Ordinary Session in June, the minister said as many as 2,529 families have been resettled in the focal-developed zones over the past two years. The settlement scheme is being implemented in 92 focal-developed zones, which are among the planned total of 145 zones designated by the government.
The minister assured that the newcomers have enjoyed better living conditions.
Lao authorities in charge said the government welcomes development partners to visit the focal-developed zones to see the situation first-hand so they can understand the initiative.
Given that a number of Lao people are still living in communities vulnerable to natural disasters and many are still subject to hardship, providing support and assistance deserves consideration by development partners to quicken the SSL scheme so that more impoverished people can enjoy better standards of living in the focal-developed zones.

ByEditorial Desk
(Latest Update September 29, 2018)

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