Laos' Nam Theun 2 Dam Starts Operation

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Risky Business tells the story of Nam Theun 2‘s impacts on affected communities. More than 6,200 people were displaced to make way for the dam and up to 120,000 people downstream will be affected by dam operations.

For over a decade, International Rivers and our partners opposed World Bank support for the massive Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Central Laos, due to concerns about the project’s impacts on more than 130,000 Laotians. Yet in 2005, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other financial institutions approved the project, ignoring many of our concerns.

In March 2010, Nam Theun 2 began full operation in violation of legal obligations to provide compensation and livelihood restoration to affected communities. Commercial operation started before resettled communities received irrigated land and before downstream communities received alternative water supply sources and compensation for flooded riverbank vegetable gardens, to which they are legally entitled. Read the full press release.

Nam Theun 2 is diverting 6 Olympic swimming pools of water per minute into the Xe Bang Fai River, where over 120,000 people depend on the river for fishing, drinking water, agriculture and transportation. The quality of the water that is being diverted is so poor that people can no longer drink the river water. Fish are harder to catch, and the water levels have risen so fast that some people are afraid to swim or bathe in the river. What’s more, the funding available for downstream communities is woefully inadequate. Many families will get a mere $100-$250 in compensation for fisheries losses that are expected to last a lifetime.

In response, International Rivers and other NGOs sent a letter to the project funders calling on them to take the following actions:

  1. Suspend dam operation immediately until an independent review determines that the Concession Agreement and World Bank resettlement policy requirements fully met;
  2. Ensure that mitigation measures in the downstream Xe Bang Fai River are strengthened; and
  3. Ensure full and immediate public disclosure of water quality monitoring data and initiate an independent regular water quality monitoring.

Nam Theun 2‘s construction has been completed, but the real work rebuilding people’s lives has just began. International Rivers will continue to monitor project operations and pressure the project’s funders to ensure that affected communities get just compensation for their losses.

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