Laos dam faces unresolved issues
Published: Dec. 9, 2010 at 4:21 PM
VIENTIANE, Laos, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- As officials prepared for the
inauguration of a new hydropower dam in Laos Thursday, problems
remain, environmentalists say.
Funded by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other public and
private investors, the $1.5 billion Nam Theun 2 will generate 1,000
megawatts of electricity, more than 90 percent to be exported to Laos'
neighbor, Thailand. It is one of the biggest hydropower stations in
To make way for the project's 174-square-mile reservoir, more than
6,000 people had to be uprooted from their villages.
Citing social and environmental issues concerning Nam Theun 2, a
coalition of activists representing 34 groups and individuals from 18
countries signed a letter to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank
this week, calling for immediate action to ensure sustainable
livelihoods for the affected communities.
Those relocated by the project "are still struggling to achieve
sustainable livelihoods three years after they lost access to their
natural resources such as paddy fields, swidden fields, forests and
grazing lands," the letter, posted on the Web site of International
The activists say that more than 100,000 people living along the Xe
Bang Fai River are also affected. Problems downstream include
flooding, decline of fisheries, riverbank erosion, flooding of
riverbank gardens, ecosystem changes along the river and poor water
The letter points out that one of the key selling points of the
project was that it would fund protection of the Nakai-Nam Theun
National Protected Area but instead the reservoir has opened access to
the area, increasing logging and poaching, as well as threatening the
area's ecological integrity.
But the World Bank maintains that Nam Theun 2 represents an example of
how hydropower can help support development in an economically,
environmentally and socially sustainable way.
"Our engagement in hydropower and hydraulic infrastructure is an
integral part of the World Bank's approach to development, all the
more so in a world with 1.5 billion people lacking access to
electricity and one where the impact of climate change is increasingly
being felt," said Keiko Miwa, the Bank's Laos country manager, Inter
Press Service reports.
Laos has plans for nine more large dams but environmentalists are
concerned that the environmental and social impacts of these new
projects won't be adequately addressed.
"Until the World Bank and ADB can prove that a hydropower project of
the size and scope of Nam Theun 2 can be successfully managed, we do
not believe that there is any justification for scaling up of World
Bank or ADB support for large dams," the activists' letter concludes.
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