06/16/2012, 00.00
LAOS

Laotian paradox: living next to a hydroelectric power plant, without electricity or drinking water

It's the mega-Nam Theun 2 plant, the largest in the country with over a thousand megawatts of power. Costing 1.25 billion dollars it has displaced over 6 thousand people. But in the new villages built near the dam, there is no electricity and homes are subject to flooding.

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The paradox of living next to a hydroelectric plant, which you helped build, and having no energy and drinking water. This is the reality for some of the thousands who have realized the Nam Theun 2 plant that produces 1070 megawatts of power, built along a tributary of the Mekong River in the province of Khammouane, operational since March 2010. To build the dam - the largest in Laos - residents have also had to abandon their villages of origin and build new homes outside the construction sites. And now, two years later, they are forced to live in the dark without electricity.

Over 90% of the plant was sold to neighboring Thailand and the energy that remains in the country is simply not enough even to supply inhabitants of areas surrounding the mega-facility. A man, who from the district of Nakai Plateau moved to Nhommalat, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the new village in Ban Sang has no "electricity and drinking water." "We live next to the dam - he adds, calling for the guarantee of anonymity - but we do not have electricity or water."

Local sources add that, from time to time, homes are flooded because "they never announce the opening" of the dam, to drain the water when the level exceeds the threshold.

The testimonies recount the drama of one of the 6,300 farmers, according to government figures, who had moved since 2005 to make way for the dam. It channels the water from the river Nam Theun to Xe Bang Fai River, costing 1.25 billion dollars, funded in part by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Over time it was supposed to generate a source of income for Laotians and reduce dependence on foreign aid.

However, environmental groups and environmental movements - including International Rivers - complain that the facility could seriously affect not only the hundreds of residents forced to flee their homes, but a total of at least 100 thousand people, who live by fishing in the lower watershed of the Xe Bang Fai River. Currently in Laos, there are 14 operating hydroelectric plants, another 10 under construction and 56 planned in the design stage or on paper. Among them is the controversial Xayaburi dam, which will have a huge environmental impact on lower Mekong according to experts (see AsiaNews 13/04/2011 Mekong River: Environmentalists against Xayaburi dam because it threatens ecosystem).

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