Hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of muddy water have flooded eight villages in central Laos’ Xaysomboun province after the reservoir of a dam upstream burst its banks last week following heavy rain, damaging infrastructure, farmlands, and water supplies.
When the reservoir of the Nam Ao Dam in Phaxay district in northeastern Laos’ Xieng Khouang province broke on Sept. 11, it sent 500,000 cubic meters of water downstream in severe flashfloods that inundated the villages with water, seriously damaging one of them, according to officials.
Now central and regional government officials say that Bothong Inter Group, the hydropower dam project developer, is legally responsible for repairing the damage to electrical networks and water supplies, because the reservoir’s construction was “not standard.”
“Legal action must be taken [against the project developer] for sure, and now the provincial authorities are investigating all the damage,” Khammany Inthirath, minister of the country’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told RFA’s Lao Service a day after the incident.
“First, it wasn’t standard so it broke, and second it was because of the heavy rain,” he said.
Somboun Sonlithideth, governor of Thathome district in Xaysomboun province, told RFA on Sept. 17 that the construction of the reservoir was faulty because it was built on marshland.
“It is a natural marsh on which they [the project developer] built a dike surrounding the reservoir,” he said.
“The reservoir could not handle a huge discharge of water because the dike, which was not constructed on strong ground, broke,” he said.
Officials are waiting for reports on the extent of the damage to fields and ponds to be completed, Somboun said
“Bothong Inter Group in cooperation with district officials is helping to restore the water supply and electricity systems,” he said. “We are waiting for reports on the damage to paddies, fields, and fish ponds.”
Floodwater has cut off Road D1 between Paksan district in Bolikhamxay province and Phaxay district in Xieng Khouang province, according to a report by KPL, the Lao News Agency.
Construction is ongoing
Bothong Inter Group began construction on the small 15-megawatt dam on the Nam Ao River in 2015.
About 85 percent of the construction is completed, and the dam is expected to be fully operational early next year, according to a report by KPL, the Lao News Agency.
Villagers have fled to higher ground, and no injuries or deaths have been reported, it said.
Officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment are probing the cause of the incident and estimating the damage it has caused, the report said.
Laos and other Southeast Asian countries are on a dam-building spree as they try to harness the power of the Mekong and other rivers.
Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impacts, displacement of villagers, and questionable financial arrangements.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.