Resettled Laotians Have Power Supply

The World Bank refutes a report which said that some of the villagers who were resettled to make way for the Nam Theun 2 project have no electricity.

laos-nam-theun-2-305.jpg The reservoir of the Nam Theun 2 in a handout photo from the power company, Oct. 23, 2010.

All the villagers who were resettled to make way for Nam Theun 2, Laos’s largest hydroelectric dam, have received electricity supply, the World Bank said Monday, rejecting a report that some of those villagers did not receive power.

"[E]very resettlement village on the Nakai plateau, and every household in those villages, has an electricity connection and improved water supply, as part of a comprehensive compensation package to people affected by inundation of the reservoir," World Bank spokeswoman Meriem Gray said in a statement from Laos.

She was commenting on an RFA report dated June 14, which has since been retracted, that some of the 6,300 people in 15 villages resettled since 2005 to make room for the dam had no electricity supply.

The 1,070-megawatt Nam Theun 2 dam on a tributary of the Mekong River in Khammouane province has been producing electricity since March 2010.  The dam diverts water from the Nam Theun River to the Xe Bang Fai River.

The U.S. $1.25 billion project, financed by international institutions including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, was launched as 6,300 people living in the assigned reservoir area on the Nakai Plateau were resettled.

"The project’s commitment to resettled communities extends beyond compensating them for the move, and includes helping villagers to develop significantly better livelihoods and living standards than they had before the project," Gray said.

She said that there was a small number of families who "voluntarily chose not to relocate to the resettlement villages but rather to receive cash compensation and to choose by themselves where they would relocate."

"These families were provided significant cash compensation."

Gray explained that Nam Theun 2 does not exacerbate any natural floods in the Xe Bang Fai downstream area as it ceases power production when the river reaches a certain predefined level.

In August last year, it ceased power generation for several weeks when the level was reached.

Poverty reduction

Nam Theun 2 will generate around U.S. $2 billion in government revenues for poverty reduction and environmental protection through the sale of electricity to Thailand and into the Lao grid, the bank said.

But International Rivers, an environmental group, said more than 110,000 people who depend on the Xe Bang Fai and Nam Theun rivers for their livelihoods have been directly affected by the project, due to destruction of fisheries, the flooding of riverbank gardens, and water quality problems.

It claimed that people on the Nakai Plateau still have no source of sustainable livelihood, threatening their food security.

A key selling point of the project was the funds it would provide for protection of the globally significant Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, the largest protected area in Laos and one of the most important areas for biodiversity in Southeast Asia.

Yet, according to International Rivers, the reservoir has opened up an access to the area, exacerbating logging and poaching and threatening its ecological integrity.

But the World Bank said the Nam Theun 2 project has put in place a comprehensive downstream program that benefits more people than are affected by the dam and that food security has "significantly improved" for resettled people on the plateau compared to life before the project.

The Nam Theun 2 is also providing more than U.S. $1 million per year for the full 25-year concession period to improve the management and protection of the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, which includes the dam watershed. "This makes it the largest and best financed protected area in the country," it said.

As of the beginning of this year, Laos had 14 operational hydropower dams, 10 under construction, and 56 proposed or in planning stages, according to an online government report.

Among these is the controversial Xayaburi dam, which would be the first on the mainstream Lower Mekong. Green groups say the dam could have a major impact on the regional environment and threaten Southeast Asia’s food security.

Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Rachel Vandenbrink.


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