Campaign Letters

November 2004 Campaign Letter

Grainne Ryder

November 18, 2004

The World Bank insists that, unlike earlier failures, nobody will be left worse off. While  villagers wait for new wealth to trickle down to them, the victims would receive no direct compensation.

Ten years ago, the World Bank helped finance Thailand’s Pak Mun dam. Many of our
supporters will remember that this mega-dam wiped out a productive fishery, flooded farmland, and impoverished dozens of thriving communities in northeast Thailand. The World Bank promised the villagers fair compensation and new rural livelihoods in model
resettlement villages. In fact, the villagers were given mostly barren land, on which they could not survive. Most left the resettlement villages in search of jobs elsewhere.

Those left behind, most of them elderly, protested this treatment and, with help from Probe International and other citizens groups around the world, eventually won a modest cash settlement for lost fishing income. It was a pittance for their suffering but their
protests did force the Thai government to announce it would stop building dams: flooding people off their land had become too costly, both financially and politically. To date, the Thai government has kept it promise.

But the World Bank has learned nothing from this lesson. Instead, it is back in full force, this time threatening highland communities in neighbouring Laos with a much bigger and far more environmentally destructive scheme – the $1.5 billion Nam Theun 2 hydro project.

To justify this French-led hydro venture, the World Bank has spared no expense, hiring an army of pro-dam consultants that tout the dam, not as a power project, but as a “vehicle for poverty alleviation.” We reviewed the project plans and concluded that this dam is another disaster in the making. Six thousand people would be forced to move onto land that the World Bank’s own consultants say is unfit for farming. Migratory fisheries in two Mekong rivers would be disrupted, and up to 90 percent of the fish catch could disappear. According to the World Bank’s own calculation, over 40,000 people are likely to lose
income and food security as a result. Independent researchers put the figure closer to 100,000. Of all the potential dam sites in Laos, this dam would flood the most land – more than 600 square kilometres of grasslands and forest upon which indigenous people depend for their survival.

The World Bank insists that, unlike earlier failures, nobody will be left worse off. It claims that new irrigation projects, tree nurseries, livestock-raising, logging, and fishery development in the dam’s reservoir will triple villagers’ income within eight years. In the
meantime, however, while villagers wait for this promised new wealth to trickle down to them, the victims would receive no direct compensation.

The Laotian people aren’t free to protest this treatment or to demand saner development policies from their government. The dam’s chief proponent, apart from the World Bank, is the debt-strapped and notoriously corrupt Laotian government. Both defend the dam as an indispensable source of government revenue that deserves World Bank support as well as subsidies from other donor agencies and export credit agencies, including Export Development Canada.

In fact, over half the dam’s revenue would go to French and Thai investors, not to the Laotian people. The subsidy from Canadian taxpayers and others, in effect, would be supporting private corporate interests. Even within the World Bank, many acknowledge that it is a fiasco. Admits one report: “Unless the negative impacts are carefully
mitigated, the net benefits flowing from the project may not be attractive enough to justify it.”

In December, the World Bank plans to formally decide on whether it should finance this dam in Laos. We oppose funding this dam, and so do the Pak Mun villagers in neighbouring Thailand, who unlike Laotians are free to protest destructive development without fear of reprisals.

There’s still time to stop the World Ban If you agree that this dam is a travesty, and want to help, please e-mail or write to Canada’s Executive Director at the World Bank, Mr.Marcel Masse,, or write to him directly at the World Bank, 1818 H Street N.W., Washington DC 20433, to give him your views. And if you can, please
also donate to support us in our efforts to urge the World Bank not to repeat its horrific mistakes of the past. Working together we can make a difference!


Gr√°inne Ryder
Policy Director

Contact information:
Mr. Marcel Masse, Canadian Executive Director – World Bank
The World Bank 1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433 U.S.A.

Please consider sending copies of your correspondence to me via e-mail:

Take Action:
Help stop destructive hydro development! Send a message to the World Bank.

Categories: Campaign Letters

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