Laos Inaugurates Dam, Hopes for Major Economic Boost
Laos Inaugurates Dam, Hopes for Major Economic Boost

Laos has officially inaugurated its biggest hydroelectric dam as controversy continues to accompany the project.

Laos held an inauguration ceremony Thursday at the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric plant, attended by Lao President Choummaly Sayasone, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other foreign dignitaries.

The $1.3 billion dam began operating in April on the Nam Theun river in central Laos. It is designed to send 95 percent of its generated electricity to neighboring Thailand, with the remaining 5 percent for use in Laos, meeting one-fifth of its annual energy requirements.

The plant is a joint venture between the Lao government, the Electricity Generating Public Company of Thailand and French energy company Electricite de France. The plant is forecast to earn impoverished, landlocked Laos $2 billion over the next 25 years.

Laos has promised to spend revenues from the dam on reducing poverty through improving education and health. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank provided funding for the plant, whose construction required the relocation of about 6,000 villagers.

The lending agencies say almost 90 percent of those villagers have reported an improvement in living standards in their new homes. Officials involved in the dam have praised its emphasis on limiting harm to the environment and improving the lives of those displaced.

But environmentalists say it is too early to call the dam a success, because of concerns that it will harm water quality and fisheries for tens of thousands of people living downstream along the Nam Theun river.

Critics also say questions remain about the ability of displaced people to develop a sustainable livelihood in their new villages.