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Radio Free Asia

New Dam Planned in Same District as Xe Pian Xe Namnoi Collapse in Southern Laos

2020-03-13 -- A new dam is set to go up in southern Laos, in the district where two years ago a major dam collapse caused a flood that was described as the country's worst in decades.

On July 23, 2018, water poured over a saddle dam in Attapeu province's Sanamxay district at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Attapeu and neighboring Champassak province.

Now the South Sekong A Dam project is in the planning stages and will begin construction later this year in Sanamxay.

"The company brought in some heavy equipment and a technical team has also been there," an Attapeu official told RFA's Lao Service Friday.

"There will be no relocation of the villagers because this dam can be closed and opened. When it has too much water it will release it according to its technical design," the official said.

He added that the feasibility study and environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the 86 megawatt dam were completed last year and that the dam will be located in the Maknao village area and affect a total of five villages: Maknao, Hadxaysung, Namkong, Hadxayyao and Mitsumphanh. Negotiations on compensation for affected villagers are currently underway.

Based on the EIA report, the five villages contain about 300 families who will lose more than 3,000 hectares (more than 7400 acres) of their land to the project, but they will not be relocated.

A villager who will be affected by the project told RFA he was concerned.

"The dam will flood our homes and villages. Now when it rains, water already submerges our village. [With the new dam] we will float away like dead logs," the villager said.

Also on Thursday, a representative of the province said at an energy meeting that the developer of the South Sekong A Dam is doing its best to minimize the impact on the community and the environment.

The representative explained that that the dam could not flood villages because it is a run-of-river dam, meaning it doesn't hold back any water, instead generating electricity by utilizing the river's natural flow. This is different from traditional dams which hold water back to create a large reservoir that floods land that would otherwise be dry.

The representative also said the dam would not affect the survivors of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoi collapse, because they are currently living in temporary housing on higher ground.

The South Sekong A Dam is a joint project of the Lao government and InnoGreen Engineering Company, a Vietnamese firm.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries in its quest to become "the battery of Southeast Asia," exporting the electricity they generate to other countries in the region, and is preparing to build scores more dams in the years ahead.

Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country's economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers, and questionable financial arrangements.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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