Activists call on Laos dam operator to own up

Activists call on Laos dam operator to own up

Apology, halt in dam building by Vientiane demanded

A man walks through his village in Attapeu province as floodwaters from the collapsed Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam lowly recede. (Reuters photo)
A man walks through his village in Attapeu province as floodwaters from the collapsed Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam lowly recede. (Reuters photo)

Activists and regional development experts on Thursday demanded Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company (PNPC) to take responsibility for all damages caused by the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam, which collapsed on July 25.

They made their demands at forums held in Bangkok and Seoul. In Bangkok, the forum was hosted by the Laos Dam Investment Monitor (LDIM), while the Seoul event was held by the Coordinated Response Team of the Korean Civil Societies for the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam Collapse.

Activists in Bangkok said the forum was held to help represent those who are badly affected by the dam collapse both in Attapeu province and neighbouring Cambodia's Rattanakiri province.

They called on PNPC, which is a joint-venture between SK Engineering and Construction (SK E&C), Korea Western Power (KOWEPO), Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding (RATCH), and Lao Holding State Enterprise (LHSE) to take entire responsibility for all the damages.

They also wanted Vientiane to halt any development on the collapsed dam and called for the suspension of future investments in new hydropower dams, as well as to formally apologise to the people of Laos and Cambodia for the disaster.

"The problem with Laos in the past until now is that they have invested significantly in the construction of dams as a means for economic growth and development.

"In this case the country rushed to build this really big dam that was not so realistic in terms of its' forecasted export potential. The amount of megawatts generated by hydropower from Laos was never adequate in making an economic impact," said Suapalak Ganjanakhundee, managing editor of the Nation newspaper.

"The Lao government has announced that they will suspend the development of Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam, while also putting current and future plans for new dams to a complete halt. They have also promised to conduct a safety inspection of all their dams across Laos, and this is a big step forward from their government," Mr Supalak said.

The need to export electricity from Laos is mired in controversy, as Thailand no longer faces energy shortages in the foreseeable future.

"Thailand's current capacity to generate energy is at 42,299 megawatts, and the peak of our production thus far stands at around 30,000. Of that total, approximately 2.2% of national production is generated from renewable sources such as solar cells and hydropower dams," Witoon Permpongsacharoen said, Director of Mekong Energy and Ecology Network.

"There appears to be no need to support construction in a foreign country to export energy on grounds that Thailand is on the verge of running out. In contrast, we have a surplus" Mr Witoon added.

Quantifying the damages from the dam collapse is difficult, he continued, as many areas in Laos and Cambodia are still completely submerged and rescue efforts are still on-going, he said.

"A lot of people in Laos have died, but for Cambodia we still do not know the exact figures. A lot of houses and farmland were inundated by five to ten meters of water in a matter of few minutes,'' said Mech Mean, a resident of Cambodia's Rattanakiri province.


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