'Dam is a threat to elephants'

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The Nation 27 August 2004

By Nantiya Tangwisutijit

As the World Bank prepares to finalise its decision to support Laos' controversial Nam Theun 2 project, opponents yesterday said the dam would "irreversibly" affect one of Southeast Asia's largest wild elephants herds.

Robert Steinmetz, a biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, said that between 100 and 300 endangered elephants on the Nakai Plateau in central Laos would be further threatened if the dam is built.

"There is no need to talk about mitigating measures because elephants' habitats along riverine forests, and the saltlicks on which these elephants depend, will be permanently inundated by the dam," he said.

First proposed in the 1980s, the 1,070-megawatt Nam Theun dam would be the largest ever built in Southeast Asia and could net Laos up to $US2 billion (Bt83 billion) over a 25-year period.

Most of the power from the project would be exported to Thailand.

Witoon P Charoen of the regional conservation group Terra said the World Bank should wait until more studies have been carried out on the dam's impact before giving the project the green light.

A decision based on insufficient research would lead to disaster, he said.

"I'm haunted by the mistake the [World Bank] committed at Pak Mool," Witoon said, referring to a dam on Thailand's MoolRiver that the bank funded more than a decade ago.