Mekong Utility Watch

Huge dam in Laos could be a nightmare

The San Jose Mercury News
September 2, 1997

Laos is seeking $1.5 billion in load guarantees from the World Bank to build the Nam Theun 2 Dam, in partnership with five overseas corporations. The dam will produce electricity for sale to Thailand. After 25 years of operation, during which its projected to earn $1 bilion for the government, the dam will be turned over to Laos.

The plan tries to minimize dislocaion of local people, but at least 1,000 families in 22 villages will have to be resettled in other areas, destroying their traditional way of life.

The dam will limit downstream water, killing vegetation that sustains fish, making the local people’s subsistance diet ever poorer.

The plan funds a conservation area on the Nakai plateau, and has won the support of two international ecological groups, which argue that the benefits outweigh the harm.

However, the record of large dam projects in the Third World is very poor. Promises to tribal people are rarely kept; they end up living in shanty towns. Whole species of animals have disappeared.

Profits often line the pockets of dictators, corrupt politicians and speculators, rather than funding development that benefits the entire society.

Many Third World countries today are saddled with debts incurred decades ago in the dream of a shortccut to progress.

It’s dangerous for Laos, a country of five million people, to incur a debt almost four times its national budget to generate electricity that it will sell to a neighbor with a shaky currency and an unstable government.

The World Bank should take a good look at the impact of big dam projects of the last 40 years, and a second look at Nam Theun 2, before approving the economically dubious, ecologically harmful and culturally damaging project.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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