Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Residents from villages that were evacuated to give way to the construction of the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric mega dam have been relocated in new settlements where they have "an electricity connection and improved water supply," the World Bank Laos office said in a statement designed to refute a report on Radio Free Asia (RFA), later picked by other media according to which some of the people resettled had no water or electricity. For project's builders and financial backers, the plant's intended purpose is "to develop significantly better livelihoods and living standards than they [the evacuees] had before the project".
In a note to AsiaNews, World Bank Laos office spokeswoman Meriem Gray said that, as part of the compensation package for losing their homes in favour of the dam, every household in the new settlements on the Nakai plateau was connected to the electric grid and was given access to drinking water.
The project has not caused any above average flooding, whilst the small number of families who "voluntarily chose not to relocate to the resettlement villages [. . .] were provided significant cash compensation."
The 1,070-megawatt project was built on a tributary of the Mekong River in Khammouane province has been producing electricity since March 2010. More than 90 per cent of its output goes to Thailand.
The dam, which diverts water from the Nam Theun River to the Xe Bang Fai River, cost US$ 1.25 billion project, provided by international institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Nam Theun 2 is expected to generate around US $ 2 billion in revenues for Laos and reduce its dependency on foreign aid whilst providing funds for environmental protection and development, the World Bank Laos office said.
However, environmental groups like International Rivers say that the dam will not touch just a few hundreds of evacuees, but rather seriously affect the livelihoods of at least 100,000 people who depend on fishing in the Xe Bang Fai and Nam Theun rivers
At present, Laos has 14 operational hydropower dams, 10 under construction, and 56 proposed or in planning stages. They include the controversial Xayaburi dam on the lower Mekong, which experts believe will have a major impact on the environment.