Mekong Utility Watch

Asian elephants and tigers threatened by dam

Probe International Mekong Press Backgrounder #3

August 27, 1996

Asian elephants and tigers threatened by dam

The Nam Theun-Hinboun hydropower project in Laos will cut off the water supply of Asian elephants, tigers, and numerous other animal species and threaten a national biodiversity conservation area, according to a report by Norplan, a Norwegian engineering firm.

The project will have severe impacts on the Nam Kading watershed, designated by the Lao government in 1993 as a national biodiversity conservation area. The project will divert water from the Nam Kading river, reducing its flow to a trickle. According to Norplan, “Nam Kading is one of the least disturbed rivers in Laos, and probably the only perennial source of plentiful water for wildlife” in the area. As a result, herds of Asian elephants and endangered tigers will be forced to search elsewhere for water. The loss of water flow in the Nam Kading “could have such a disruptive effect on the large mammal and riparian bird communities that it is possible the entire forest ecosystem of the [national biodiversity conservation area] would be altered,” according to Norplan.

To mitigate the effects of the project on area wildlife, the consultants suggest the Nam Kading’s flow be maintained at 15 cubic metres per second. Maintaining such a flow, however, means the dam will produce less electricity. Such a move would cut into the project’s profits by US$3.7 million a year, something the project developers want desperately to avoid. The project’s builders, in any case, are not obligated to implement the consultants’ recommendations.

Ironically, the Asian Development Bank, which lent the Laos government US$60 million in 1994 for the project, has promoted Nam Theun-Hinboun as the less destructive alternative to the larger, World Bank-financed Nam Theun II dam upstream. Nam Theun II has been criticized by environmentalists because it will flood one quarter of the 1600-square kilometre Nakai plateau, an area equally rich in wildlife as the Nam Kading watershed.

The Nam Theun-Hinboun is a 210-megawatt dam currently under construction on a large tributary of the Mekong river. It is being built by a consortium including Electricité du Laos, MDX of Thailand, and Nordic Hydropower. The consultants’ report, entitled Impact Studies for the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project, Laos, was completed by Norplan A.S. of Oslo, Norway, in May, 1996.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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