World Bank Support for big dams remains

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Inter Press Service 26 August 2004

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Groups like the U.S.-based International Rivers Network (IRN) have argued that the Bank cannot claim to have distanced itself from building large dams.

BANGKOK, (IPS) - World Bank’s faith construction large hydropower projects developing world appears undiminished fresh round discussions construct mammoth dam South-east Asia’s poorest country, Laos, gets underway.

But environmentalists are determined undermine drive shedding light on new dangers posed proposed Nam Theun Two (NTT) hydroelectric project.

The project built an international consortium investors with Bank stepping political risk guarantor.

The new dam threat rapidly dwindling population Asian elephants, environmentalists said week Thai capital ahead first many public seminars Bank will host examine merits controversial hydropower project.

The Bank Manila-based Asian Development Bank will host first consultation over NTT, built cost 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, on Aug. 31.

The Nakai Plateau, which will inundated with water reservoir NTT, home South-east Asia’s Laos’ largest concentration elephants, environmentalists add.

‘’The number elephants on Nakai Plateau between 100 300. highest number South-east Asia,’’ Robert Steinmetz, conservationist World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said press conference on Thursday.

‘’The role Nakai Plateau essential elephants’ seasonal movements,’’ he added. ‘’The damage will irreversible one most important population elephants region.’’

The Asian elephant population has dwindled between 30,000 40,000 today, some 60 percent which roam through India. Besides elephants, 450 square-kilometre area Nakai Plateau forests will go under water due reservoir will affect other animals birds, some which are listed among world’s endangered species World Conservation Union (known its initials IUCN).

They include tiger, clouded leopard, nine species turtle tortise gibbon birds such white-winged duck, green peafowl hornbills, states Towards Ecological Recovery Regional Alliance (TERRA), Bangkok-based environmental lobby monitors Indochina region.

For Surapon Dongkhae, secretary-general WWF Thailand, consequence proposed dam Laos ‘’will worse than what experienced Thailand with elephants’’.

Thailand’s elephant population has already suffered with construction two large dams Kanchanaburi, province west Bangkok, construction Thai-Burma gas pipeline development projects created human-elephant conflicts 10 areas protected forests, activists say.

‘’Elephants cannot survive any area forests,’’ he asserted.

The Bank has been quick respond latest hurdle thrown path NTT, which expected generate 1,075 megawatts power, making largest hydropower scheme South-east Asia.

‘’The elephant issue – ensuring their protection – one many which those involved preparing studying project are dealing with,’’ declared statement Bank week.

The Nam Theun Power Co (NTPC), which made up international consortium backing project, working with ‘’a leading conservation NGO (non-governmental organisation), World Conservation Society, on protection programme (for elephants),’’ Bank states.

It involves ‘’direct observations elephant families, tracking their daily lives, working move away conjecture best science possible,’’ adds.

The alarm over elephants adds long list concerns environmentalists have if NTPC goes ahead with its plans build 50-metre high dam across Theun River, which flows through landlocked Laos.

The hydropower scheme will displace close 5,000 people living on Nakai Plateau. Likewise, change would cause change flow water Xe Bang Fai river would affect livelihood food security between 50,000 120,000 people, according TERRA.
‘’If built, Nam Theun 2 project would divert 95 percent flow Nam Theun river through project’s powerhouse release water into Xe Bang Fai river basin,’’ states TERRA.

The Bank’s interest large dam projects marks shift – reflected provision guarantees instead direct funding – after few years going slow on such mega projects. Previously, environmentalists had criticised Bank backing projects caused harm ecological social harm.

Between 1990-95 period, instance, Bank approved up two billion U.S. dollars 13 hydropower projects. But number dropped less than 600 million dollars only six projects 1999-2002.

Groups like U.S.-based International Rivers Network (IRN) have argued Bank cannot claim have distanced itself building large dams when its presence political risk guarantor – Nam Theun 2 -- reason attracts private public investors.

Being guarantor means offering security investors case are attempts Lao government nationalise private sector development scheme.

The consortium build NTT formed 1995 with aim satisfying voracious hunger energy neighbouring Thailand.

Laos’ communist government has favoured plans since counting on returns sale hydropower – proposed South-east Asian regional power grid – reduce country’s dependence on foreign loans eradicate poverty among its five million people.