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In the field of water governance, numerous studies have debated the social impacts of hydraulic infrastructure development, especially the changes of resettlers’ livelihoods due to dam resettlement. Yet, there remains a need to critically analyse how the multiple policies of national and sub-national governments and their unequal power relations in resettlement processes significantly shape resettlers’ livelihoods, and outcomes of vulnerability or precarity. This thesis analyses livelihood changes of dam resettlers, through a lens of ‘old’ and ‘new’ poverty, drawing on two ethnic minority villages in Laos resettled under the two study hydropower projects that use different (and understudied) investor arrangements—a State-owned Enterprise model and a regional Independent Power Producer model. The thesis takes political ecology as a broad theoretical framework, and mobilises three specific concepts: powersheds, scales of governance, and livelihoods. The analysis extends existing scholarly literature on dams, towards an understanding of what Souksakoun calls “multi-purpose resettlement.” Souksakoun develops a multi-scaled analytical and relational approach, to hierarchically trace how Mekong regional power sector trends interact with Lao national hydropower development discourses and regulatory institutions, critically shaping local resettlement process and outcomes.
Using a mixed methods approach, this thesis analyses a series of structural regulatory and institutional disconnects that bedevil sustainable hydropower governance in Laos, both across and within key state agencies. At the local scale, Souksakoun examines the multiple political, social, and environmental objectives that are mobilised in state-led hydropower resettlement. 75% and 45% of surveyed village households under the “State Owned Enterprise” and “Independent Power Producer” models respectively, identified significant difficulties with regaining their pre-resettlement livelihood standards. This thesis argues that dam resettlement in Laos can be a driver of new forms of vulnerability and precarity for affected communities, due primarily to undercompensated or uncompensated changes in access to agricultural land and natural resources.
Kanya Souksakoun is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. His doctoral project investigates the political economy of Mekong regional energy‐scapes and social sustainability on hydropower in Laos. He has 10 years of professional experience as a leading practitioner of environmental and social impact assessment and safeguard monitoring for numerous hydropower projects in Laos. Kanya is a faculty member in the field of water resources governance at the National University of Laos. With Keith Barney, he is co-author of “Credit Crunch: Chinese Infrastructure Lending and Lao Sovereign Debt” published in 2021 in Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies journal.
This seminar will be a hybrid event held at the Acton Theatre (Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU), and online via Zoom. Zoom details will be provided upon registration to this event.