« The Lao dam collapse: a tragedy long in the making » by Bruce Shoemaker, 03/08/2018, New Mandala
The partial collapse of a newly constructed dam in Laos has killed dozens of local villagers and devastated the lives and livelihoods of thousands—and in doing so exposed cracks in the hydropower agenda of the country’s one-party government. The South Korean and Thai companies spearheading the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy project initially tried to write off the collapse as a natural disaster induced by heavy rains. However, this was very much an avoidable manmade tragedy caused by poor design, construction and operation.
While the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy tragedy is particularly acute, the rush to transform Laos into “the battery of Southeast Asia” through rapid construction of large hydropower across the country is already a widespread, if largely unacknowledged, human rights and environmental disaster.
In a highly restrictive one-party state in which local people have no freedom of expression or access to independent media, and civil society is severely constrained, tens of thousands of people are being forcibly resettled to make way for large-scale hydropower projects and other infrastructure.
Many more communities downstream from these projects, dependent on migratory fish and other river resources for income and food security, have lost livelihoods and food sources without acknowledgement or redress. Some projects are being built in what are legally protected conservation areas, causing severe impacts on areas of high biodiversity significance. Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy was no exception.
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