A new Mekong river dam in Laos’ Luang Prabang province will displace up to 465 families this month, the latest in the continuing trend of hydropower projects forcing villagers to relocate all over the country.
Residents of 10 villages in Luang Prabang’s Chomphet district must be prepared to move to make room for the Luang Prabang dam, the fifth in a series of nine dams proposed on the Mekong mainstream in Laos, two of which are now in various stages of construction.
“[The authorities] said the villagers will be moving soon, within this month according to their plans,” said an official of Luang Prabang’s Labor and Social Welfare Department in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service Thursday.
“They have to have an agreement in place before they can start construction,” said the official.
The official said that the Chomphet residents would be the first to have to move because the initial construction site for the dam is in their area.
According to the official, plans for compensation are not complete. Authorities are still collecting information about losses each family will incur because of the displacement. There has been no official statement on when compensation payments would be ready.
An official of Chomphet district, who requested anonymity, said the entire dam project will affect a total of 1,077 families. Including the 465 families in Chomphet, 72 families in Luang Prabang’s Pak Ou district, 520 families in Oudomxay province’s Nga district, and 20 families in Xayaburi province’s Hongsa district also stand to be displaced as the project continues.
When complete, the dam will have displaced approximately 4,600 people.
MRC weighs in
“The Secretariat has until today not received any official notification or information from the Lao government of its intention to undertake the prior consultation process for the said project yet,” said a spokesperson for the Secretariat of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on Friday.
The spokesperson for the intergovernmental organization tasked with sustainable development of the Mekong added, “The MRC will notify the public immediately upon receiving any official notification from a proposing country.”
The spokesperson added that when project plans are sent to it for approval, an assessment of the social impact is usually included.
“The MRC has a responsibility for assessing the transboundary potential impacts (positive and negative) for a number of assessment areas including social issues,” he said.
“However, the MRC is not responsible for local settlement issues since it is the responsibility of the proposing country government within its sovereignty territory.”
According to International Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, the current Lao hydropower development plan includes 72 new large dams, 12 of which are under construction and nearly 25 in advanced planning stages.
The Lao government says the dams will help pay for anti-poverty and other social welfare programs, but International Rivers asserts that much of the power generated by Laos is sold to neighboring countries and then resold to Laos at higher rates.
Meanwhile, issues with faulty construction at several of the dams have resulted in disasters, including a collapse at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project last July that was described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades.
In that disaster 12 villages were flooded, killing at least 40 people in Champassak and Attapeu provinces and leaving many more missing.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.