Six years ago, a village of tycoons appeared in Son Tay District, in the central province of Quang Ngai, as local people became billionaires overnight thanks to land compensation from a hydropower project.
Almost immediately, they poured money into building splendid homes that shaped a new urban area in the forest.
Most of them, however, soon returned to poverty and now have to live on rice subsidies due to overspending.
Only elderly people and children are left in the palatial houses in the Anh Nhoi 2 resettlement area in Son Long Commune, as young people of working age don’t stay, seeking out better opportunities in neighbouring cities and provinces or returning to their old villages where they used to live.
Village of billionaires
Do Thanh Vuot, Chairman of the People’s Committee of Son Long commune, told Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper that 33 households in Anh Nhoi 2 village under a resettlement housing got a huge amount of money in land compensation from Đăk Đrinh hydropower project, with pay-outs ranging from hundreds of million to billions of dong.
Vuot said that most of the nouveau riche in the village had returned to poverty because they overspent on luxuries, including cars, motorbikes, palatial mansions, and boozy parties.
The house of local man Dinh Van Dieu now sits empty, with rusty locks on the doors. Dieu reportedly sold his house and returned to his former village nearby.
Dinh Van Bay, vice police chief in Son Long Commune, said Dieu received VND3 billion (US$130,400) in land compensation. But his 20-year-old son, Dinh Van Thien, frittered away his fortune. Thien asked his father to buy him a VND400 million car and a VND1.9 billion house. The more money his son wasted, the faster Dieu fell into poverty.
Dinh Van Re and his wife Dinh Thi Vun in Anh Nhoi Village 2 suffered the same fate. They received VND3 billion in land compensation, but their son Dinh Van Xanh spent their money, the police officer said.
“Vun’s family is now regarded as a poor household. There is nothing valuable in her house,” Vuot said.
“The owners of the abandoned houses haven’t returned to the village for many months. The owners of homes with children sent their kids to somebody else, so they could move to other cities and provinces to earn a livelihood,” Bay said.
‘No farmland, no rice’
An elderly woman named Dinh Thi Vun, a member of the Cadong ethnic minority, was sitting in front of her house, chewing betel leaves. Vun said she missed her old village.
In 2013, Vun’s family agreed to give up four hectares of farmland in Ra Manh Village to Đăk Đrinh hydro power project in return for a house in a resettlement area and 600 sq.m of land for cultivation.
Vun realised that easy come, easy go.
“I bought land in Ta Muc Village in Son Dung Commune as well as planting cassava in H.Kon Plong in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum. However, the money we earn from cassava is not enough to buy rice. My healthy family members have left for other provinces to earn money, but elderly people like me do not have the strength to move,” Vun said.
“No farmland, so no rice here. We have nothing to do on a daily basis so we often drink alcohol to drown our sorrows, which is not good for our health. The young people in the village only return home during Tết holiday. I am afraid that if someone passes away, nobody will be here to carry his coffin,” she said.
More people in the resettlement area have moved to their old villages, because there is no source of income.
Dinh Van Cong used his pay-out of VND800 million to purchase forest land and cattle. He now owns 20 hectares of land, 40 cows and 50 goats, but he no longer wants to stay in the resettlement area even though it has good roads, schools, and healthcare facilities. Cong decided to go back to his hometown in Ra Manh Village.
“It is 16 kilometres to move from my new house in the resettlement area to my work place. It is even harder to commute along the forest roads in the rainy season”, Cong said.
Do Thanh Vuot said that eight out of 33 households in the resettlement area in Anh Nhoi 2 have returned to their old villages because they don’t have any means of living here. The rest have moved to urban areas in search of jobs, leaving elderly people and kids alone in the forest.