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June 15, 2012

Lao Dams: Near A Dam, But No Power

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The reservoir of the Nam Theun 2 reservoir in a handout photo from the power company, Oct. 23, 2010.

Some of the thousands who made way for Laos’s Nam Theun 2 hydropower project have no electricity.

Villagers living near Laos’s largest hydro-electric dam and who were resettled to make room for it are languishing without a power supply of their own.

The Nam Theun 2, a 1,070-megawatt dam on a tributary of the Mekong River in Khammouane province, has been producing electricity for Laos’s power grid since March 2010.

But with over 90 percent of the dam’s electricity sold to neighboring Thailand, some of the thousands who moved to make way for the project are living nearby without power.

One man who was relocated from the Nakai Plateau to Nhommalat district said his new village, Ban Sang, lacks electricity and water supply.

“What has happened to us from the Nam Theun 2 is that we are now living near the dam but we have no electricity, no clean water,” he said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.

The man is one of 6,300 villagers, according to government statistics, who were relocated since 2005 to make room for the dam, which diverts water from the Nam Theun River to the Xe Bang Fai River.

He appealed to local authorities to give the village access to water and electricity.

“The reservoir’s water level is above our heads, but we have no water to use in our daily lives,” he said.

He added that sometimes Ban Sang residents’ homes are flooded because they are not given an announcement before the dam’s gates are opened to release excess water.

Everyday life is different for the villagers since relocation because they could not bring their livestock with them and had to find new land to farm in the new village, he said.

‘Battery’ of Southeast Asia

The U.S. $1.25 billion hydropower project was financed by international institutions including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and seen as a way for Laos to generate revenue and reduce reliance on foreign aid.

But green groups including International Rivers said the dam could affect the livelihoods of not only those relocated, but also some 100,000 people who had relied on fisheries downstream on the Xe Bang Fai River.

With plans to export electricity to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China, Laos has said it hopes to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia, as only around half of its own population has access to electricity.

As of the beginning of this year, Laos had 14 operational hydropower dams, 10 under construction, and 56 proposed or in planning stages, according to an online government report.

Among these is the controversial Xayaburi dam, which would be the first on the mainstream Lower Mekong. Green groups say the dam could have a major impact on the regional environment and threaten Southeast Asia’s food security.

Reported by Nontarat Phaicharoen for RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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