July 8, 1997
Vientiane, Laos — The Laotian Government is confident the World Bank will agree to its request for a loan for the construction of its controversial Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric dam project to generate electricity for sale to Thailand. A week-long workshop called the Third National Public Consultation on Nam Theun 2 started yesterday in Vientiane’s Lan Xang Hotel in which various impact studies and management plans were presented.
Main focus of attention were five reports outlining population resettlement plans, options available, environmental assessment studies, its economic impact and the Nakai-Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area’s social and environment management strategy.
The proposed project is to be built on the wildlife-rich Nakai Plateau in Khammouane province in Laos with the Nam Theun 2 Electricity Consortium (NTEC), set up by the Laotian Government, and five other multi-national companies including the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand sharing the investment costs.
According to Khammone Phaonekeo, Vice Minister of Laos’ Industry and Handicrafts, the World Bank has indicated that it would carefully study the five major reports before deciding whether to support the project. But the World Bank demands that public opinion and participation is required in the decision-making process of the project.
As a result, this public consultation workshop will run for a full week to gather as much as possible from public participation, especially those villagers that would be directly affected by the project, said Khammone.
This workshop is the last to be held as the study teams are to finalise their reports along with public recommendations before handing them to the Government of Laos.
“This is a very good project and I believe the World Bank will support it as it knows this will help Laos to feed its own people and stand on its own feet,” said Khammone.
Landlocked Laos is rich in natural power resources such as lignite and hydropower to feed the market demands of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
By the year to 2006, Laos hopes to sell around 3,000 MKwatts of electricity to Thailand. It has already signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to sell another 1,500 MKwatts to Vietnam by the year 2010.
The Nam Theun 2 project is just one of a dozen planned electricity generating projects of the country. An estimated 1,000 families in Nakai district are being evacuated to pave the way for the dam construction.
These villagers will be relocated by the NTEC to live on higher ground around the dam site.
The Nakai villagers are now being put through an agricultural training programme and are said to be quite satisfied with what’s being offered since the government has assured them of a better future for their children, said Mr Sat Songsavanh, a representative of Nakai district.
He said there is no other choice for the people here who have long been hunters and gatherers. They would be taught new ways of growing their food under the resettlement project.
“We felt secure when we heard of the agricultural training programme that would provide us with enough food and we would no longer have to hunt wild animals to trade for rice,” said Mr Sat.
Meanwhile, NTEC director David Iverach attacked international non-governmental organisations opposing the project as disappointing but not surprising.
The NGOs like the International Rivers Network (IRN), World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), Green Peace, and Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) have opposed the project since it involves flooding part of the plateau that would cause a serious impact on the environment, the people and wildlife.
They have criticised that the project will destroy one of the most resource-rich forests in Asia.
Mr Iverach however accepted every major development project carries some risks and the NTEC is trying to reduce them in this case as much as possible.
“We (NTEC) have done the best on our part and are now looking forward to the World Bank to give us its support and green light,” said Mr Iverach.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch