29th September, 2011
upporters of a controversial dam in one of Asia’s poorest countries say it will bring huge economic benefits. Critics say it could threaten fisheries and rice cultivation, threatening the livelihoods of millions. Brendan Brady reports from Laos
Standing over various maps and charts outlining dam proposals, Viraphonh Viravong says the plans that lie before him promise to herald better times for his country. Viraphonh is the director of Laos’ Department of Electricity and point-person for the Xayaburi dam, which, depending on who you ask, is the first step in a new initiative to lift Laos out of poverty and under-development, or the beginning of a precipitous decline in the health and stability of the Mekong River.
Laos is one of the poorest and least developed countries in East Asia, a status that its communist government says it can shed by drastically expanding the country’s hydropower capacity. Doing so, it says, will provide electricity countrywide and fund better public infrastructure and services with electricity export revenues. Already, hydropower projects draw more than half of total foreign direct investment in Laos, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment. But in the un-dammed 1880-kilometer main channel of the Mekong running through the country, the government sees too much hydropower potential to leave unharnessed.
Viraphonh says that enlarging the country’s hydropower scheme is a natural evolution….
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