People started to settle in the area since 500 years ago, when Ban Sakai and Ban Khokpheung were established along Mekong riverbank. More people started to settle the lower stream reach area at the period of King Anouvong about 300-400 years ago. Before the 19th century, the settlement of population at the upper reach stream began. Later, the founding of Ban Viengkham and Ban Nahoybanh showed the search of better area of the group of people to resettle more at lowland area. At the same time, Ban Taohai was founded nearby where is the birthplace of the National Hero (Than Sithong). Prior to the 20th century, there were few villages began to settle and disconnected from one another. The disconnected villages became the vast social when there was demographic upheaval which followed the liberation struggle that Sangthong was settled in earnest by communities in search of lowland for agriculture purposes. At the present, the search for arable land is continued largely by the immigration into the Nam Ton watershed area. During 2007, the immigration of new families in middle reach of the Nam Ton watershed has been at rate 2.2 times higher than rate of emigration from the Nam Ton watershed. However the number of immigration cannot quantify perfectly, it is certain that more than 300 families immigrated in the Nam Ton watershed.
Population and economic profile
The population density in the Nam Ton Watershed is 40.25 people/km2. The annual growth rate of population observed in 2004 – 2007 is 2.6% (the population increased from 31,000 to 32,382 people during that period). Figure 1 show sex distribution in the Nam Ton watershed area. This graph indicates a slight imbalance between male and female (52% and 48%, respectively). The distribution has been observed by different group of age between the ages of 15 – 60.
The growth rate of population is one of the driven factors of high pressure to natural resources and a leading cause of increasing pressure on water resources. The population pressure varies from a village to another. The size of families generally varies with the income level. Families with higher income tend to have large household size. However it is not clear whether high income households are exhibiting higher birth rates compare to lower income household. The data reveal that the percent of poor household is higher in Hin Heup than in Sangthong district. The average households are 38.6% and 12% in Sangthong and Hin Heub district respectively. It likely that Sangthong district locates near Vientiane capital and Thailand offer more opportunities to access to the markets. The comparison of household’s economy from 2008 to 2012 shows that the percent of poor households decreased from 10% to 3.6% and that high income household increased significantly from 16.4 % to 56.3% while the medium income households decreased from 78.6% to 30.5%. This baseline data shows that the poverty was actually reduced during that period.
Religion and ethnic groups
The Nam Ton watershed comprise of large ethnic Lao people, followed by minorities of Kh’hmu, Tai and Hmong (Table 2). The distribution of population follows the geographic and temporal pattern of settlement (Vesser, 2007). In general, Lao groups early settled in lowland area and upper reach of watershed settled by minorities (Table 3). An exception to this is Ban Huaykham, which is the low land area of the Nam Ton watershed and has many minorities have been resettled. Most minority families have arrived in the last ten year in Santhong District settled small housing cluster on ourskirts of larger, lowland Lao villages. This distribution of different minorities group of population is important and should be considered to the implications for decision making and participation within the watershed.
The dominant religion in the Nam Ton Watershed is Buddhism. There are many people in Kh’hmu who are Animists. They believed surround the important of ritual centered on local or regional spirits or spirits of deceased relatives. Christiane group in the Nam Ton watershed (Ban Xo along Namsang River, and many villages in upper reach of the stream such as Ban Souanmone and Ban Viengkham , Hinheup District). Some religious practice helps to protect the natural resources such as reverence for deep pools of water in the Nam Ton or its tributaries is common in the Nam Ton Watershed. This tradition has held certain pool to be sacred and this tradition will help protect that area for fishing or gathering of food is prohibited. Face to social development and living style at the present, it is not clear how such religious tradition may lend to a sustainable system of natural resource use.
Immigration and Minority issues
Resettlement in the Nam Ton Watershed has been occurred in two general ways:
- Resettlement has been villager-driven, characterized by families from northern area of Laos such as Phongsaly, Xiengkhuang and Luang Prabang Province. These populations have immigrated to the Nam Ton Watershed in the past 7-8 years for searching productive land and access to health and education services.
- Resettlement has been government-sponsored by the resettlement surrounding the State Forestry Enterprise No. 9 in the 1980s and more with the founding of Ban Huaykham in 2001. At that time, the critical lack of resources and small proportion of funds were implemented at village level with difficulty, in term of sustainable resources and potential for natural resource conflict issues.
The increasing in population in the Nam Ton Watershed is mainly the consequence of the immigration of low-income families. These families are more likely to exploit sensitive degraded forest area in the search for productive land. Traditionally, paddy lands are commonly the property of family while upland fields are property of village. The emigrants from upland area have failed in the period of significant livelihood vulnerability because they cannot sell their productive lands. Similar to immigrants to low land area who originated from upland area also face to difficult situation, due to the lack of productive land. This transition period of vulnerability is a significant issue both for livelihood-oriented.
The issues of immigration people to new area were also found. This issue should be taken in to account with any resettlement program. In 2004, the District Authorities program granted to relocated population from Ban Huaykham to an area several kilometer outside of Ban Xo, along the Huay Sagan, a tributary the place which has not sufficient natural resources. That land was later reassigned for military use and leaving the villagers with little access to lowland, resulting in the encroachment of forested area for swidden cultivation. In 2007, this village treble in size through the immigration of 52 minority families from Northern Lao. After a certain time, this village was resettled to the outskirts of Ban Xo along the bank to the Namsang River by District security authorities in accordance with the Village consolidation program. The data collection showed that villagers had neither clean water which causes 27 cases of severe childhood diarrhea.