News

    Laos Faces Challenge of Using Water Resources to Ease Poverty While Protecting Environment

    Unlike many parts of the world with water shortages, the small Southeast Asian nation of Laos has hundreds of rivers draining the highlands along its border with Vietnam. The challenge facing Laos is how to use its water to alleviate poverty without damaging the environment.

    Correspondent Scott Bobb visited central Laos and reports on a dam project the government says will boost economic growth, but that some environmentalists fear will endanger a forest conservation zone in the region.

    It is late afternoon in Thalang, a village of several hundred people in central Laos, 100 kilometers from the nearest paved road.

    Chickens and pigs forage for food in the hardscrabble earth around wooden houses on stilts.

    Thalang's inhabitants eke out a living by fishing and tending small gardens along the Nam Theun, a river that flows from the mountains near Vietnam to the Mekong River.

    Thalang is doomed.

    The government wants to build a dam on the Nam Theun that will flood Thalang and 16 other villages in the area. Six thousand people will lose their homes.

    Mrs. Thorn, a mother of five, has lived in Thalang for most of her life, but she is ready to leave.

    "I want to move," she says. "I will have a new house with electricity and land to cultivate. It's hard here. My family is very poor. We don't have enough rice."

    The Nam Theun Power Company, which is building the dam, has built a model village of new homes and a neighborhood school 30 kilometers away on higher ground. Mrs. Thorn and her neighbors have seen the houses, which have electricity and running water. And they like them.

    The company's resettlement manager, Impasit Thathongsakd, says the most important thing is consultations with the people and detailed planning.

    "We tell them the project components and the benefits of the project, and the impact, of course, all good and bad," he said. "The most important thing is for them to understand in depth how the project affects them."

    Excavators are already at work on the dam, which is to be completed in four years at a cost of $1.2 billion.

    It will flood 450-square-kilometers of land on the Nakai Plateau. Water from its reservoir will generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity - enough to light more than 750,000 homes.

    Laos will sell most of the power to neighboring Thailand to fuel its booming economy. The power will earn the Lao government $80 million, or one-fifth of its current budget.

    The money could fund development projects, create jobs and improve social services in one of the region's poorest countries.

    However, some environmental groups worry that the dam will open up a nearby forest preserve to poachers and illegal loggers, threatening tigers, elephants and other endangered species.

    Gary Oughton, an agriculture expert with the environmental consulting company EcoLao, says dams can severely damage forests.

    "You will inundate some of their [villagers] lands, and you will force them uphill into the forests, put more pressure on wildlife and natural resources, unless proactive measures are taken," he said.

    He adds that dams also affect fish populations and soil quality downstream, as well as the lives of people whose lands are flooded.

    The more outspoken critics of the dam say the reservoir will be too shallow and could dry up during droughts. They say that during rainy seasons, on the other hand, heavy water flow could flood fields and pastures downstream. They add that dam projects rarely benefit the rural poor and mostly provide funds to governments, which are vulnerable to corruption.

    Aviva Imhof of the International Rivers Network says 150 organizations have sent a letter to the World Bank expressing their opposition to the project.

    "The risks far outweigh the potential benefits of the project," said Aviva Imhof. "It's the poorest people that will end up worse off. So we can see no evidence that the revenues will be used to alleviate poverty in Laos."

    The dam's supporters, including several large environmental groups, say excessive logging already has damaged the plateau and its soil is too poor for commercial farming. They say it would be better to sacrifice the plateau and use revenue from the dam to preserve the forest, which is the area's major water catchment.

    Mr. Oughton says greater care is now being taken in building dams in Laos.

    "Planning of roads, highways, irrigation systems and hydro-power dams involves a very large component of additional investment into ensuring that the communities receive investment for the development of irrigation systems, sustainable agriculture and a share in income from forestry," he said.

    Several environmental groups have done environmental assessments. Most of them support the project as long as an independent group, such as the Mekong River Commission, can ensure that the power company and the Lao government fulfill their pledges to the villagers of the Nakai Plateau.

    The Nam Theun Power Company has pledged $1 million a year for conservation efforts in the forest and $16 million during construction to offset the effects on the villagers.

    The company's Mr. Impasit acknowledges that development projects are destructive, but, he says, sometimes they are necessary.

    "You have to evaluate what is the loss and what are the benefits, long-term, short-term, and what is good for the Lao people," he said. "And through the lessons learned from all over the world, we try to avoid [having] a bad impact, especially to the people, to the nature."

    The World Bank is to decide later this month, after years of study, whether to guarantee $1.2 billion in loans for the project. Independent observers say the bank is under pressure to approve the loans, because if it does not, the Lao government would likely go to other lenders, who have less stringent requirements for protecting the environment.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora