The Bunong village of Kbal Romeas in the province of Stung Treng province
Kbal Romeas village is located along the Srepok tributary of the Mekong River in the Sesan district of Stung Treng province. The community’s territory covers approximately 8,000 hectares, including forested areas. The village has a total population of two hundred and fifty eight Bunong people, 126 of whom are women. Bunong Indigenous villages continue to practice the tradition of collective land use, where individual households work a plot of land within the community’s territory. This community uses their communal land for many purposes depending on the type of land. The land is divided between residential land, burial sites, sacred forest sites, cattle and animal grazing land, shifting cultivation agriculture and natural forest area.
Relocation from Hydro Dam
The main issues that Kbal Romeas is currently facing are the consequences of the Lower Sesan II hydro-power dam, built across the river within the boarders of their land in Srepok river. The development was undertaken without the free, prior and informed consent of the community, and has now flooded the entire village. While the government has offered the community new land, Kbal Romeas has declined as it is far away from their ancestral land and denies them the right to practice their traditional lifestyle. As a result, the community has been subjected to multiple intimidation tactics: threats from the government, harassment through the court system, and most importantly, cuts to their basic public services. These tactics force the community to accept resettlement as their only viable option. Contrary to the government’s wishes, and without formal recognition, the Indigenous community relocated their village to nearby land that was not flooded. While this has afforded them a greater opportunity to connect with their ancestral homes, the community continues to face major issues.
- Loss of culture and traditional practices as a result of lost resources: the entire old village and infrastructure were lost due to the flood caused by the dam. This infrastructure included roads, the primary school, the small health center, 4 pump wells, the traditional open well, toilets, the pagoda, 60 traditional lakes, 30 streams and most importantly, their river.
- Education: 80 primary school students have been without formal education for three years since the hydropower dam began construction. The government ordered the school to be closed two years before the flood, in order to force the community to accept the unfair resettlement compensation. However, CIPO worked with the community to build a community school using community resources and working with community volunteers to teach the students.
- Health: the government shut down the small health centre three years ago, making access to health services impossible.
- Religion: the government forced the monks to leave the pagoda and to resettle in a new pagoda in the new resettlement area.
- Land issue: the government does not officially recognize the traditional indigenous practices of land use in this area. However, Indigenous communities continue to practice their traditional lifestyle, culture and collective land use as best they can.
- Water and sanitation: the community does not have access to clean water, they collect the water from the stream nearby and from an open well.
- Electricity: no electricity is available in the community, with the exception of small personal-use solar panels that can generate limited amounts of electricity for basic use.
- Social safety: In addition to the complete isolation of the community and total lack of the public services, three of the active community members were accused of incitement by the provincial authorities, who are using the court system to threaten the entire community members. These cases remain in the court process.
Moving Forward: Master Plan and CLT
The Kbal Romeas village has an independent governance system that manages community affairs. They have officially been granted the right to live on their ancestral land, near their old flooded village. They have already developed the “Indigenous Community Conservation and Development Master Plan” in 2018 to register and demand a collective land title (CLT) for their ancestral land. Their plan also involves mobilizing resources within the community to build a school, a pagoda and a Kbal Romeas cultural centre. They are demanding that the authorities be accountable for their forced displacement and provide health care staff, teachers and a new road to the rural community. CIPO continues to work with Kbal Romeas to mobilize resources and implement their master plan.