Mekong Utility Watch

New dam takes toll on livelihoods

South China Morning Post
April 4, 1998

The first major dam to be built in Laos in 20 years opens today amid new environmental and commercial fears.  The US$260 million (HK$2 billion) Thuen Hinboun dam in central Laos will sell power to Thailand after being built with Norwegian and Asian Development Bank assistance in a consortium deal touted as a model for more dams.

A report yesterday by the US-based International Rivers Network warns that thousands of villages are being affected by the dam but are unlikely to be compensated.

A network survey early last month found evidence that some villagers were being forced to move as fish catches dropped between 30 to 90 per cent when the dam was closed in January.

”As the project’s developers trumpet the project’s success, thousands of villagers are experiencing severe impact to their livelihoods,” researcher Bruce Shoemaker notes in his report. The study called for urgent action to assist villages, warning that just US$50,000 had been set aside for relocations under the deal which puts all future compensation firmly in the hands of the Laos Government.

Recent Asian Development Bank statements described the dam as a ”winner” and set ”to pay back its investors big time” but warned that the dam’s financial success had been hampered by the regional currency crash.

The build-own-operate-transfer deal is 60 per cent owned by the Laos state power supplier, 20 per cent by Thai interests and the rest by a Scandinavian consortium, Nordic Hydropower.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has agreed to buy power from Laos under a deal signed at old exchange rates a move which could see a net loss for the country of about 20 per cent of total revenues.

The dam has been seen a forerunner to the far larger Nam Thuen II dam, a controversial project set to flood parts of the environmentally precious Nakai plateau.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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