Criticism dominates first public debate on huge Laos dam

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Agence France-Presse 31 August 2004

Bangkok: Campaigners heaped criticism Tuesday on billion-dollar hydro-electric dam plan Laos public meeting here has put tiny communist nation under intense global scrutiny after 30 years near isolation.

A World Bank consultation tour designed win over opponents 1,070-Megawatt project made its first stop Thailand, which has already signed five-billion-dollar contract buy electricity produced Nam Theun 2 (NT2) dam 25 years.

But activists slammed 1.3-billion-dollar dam scheme claimed another World Bank-backed hydro-project had wrought environmental disaster northeastern Thailand.

Dont let repetition Pak Moon dam, said Thai man who identified himself Sompong.

He said Thai dam project had devastated thriving fishing industry left thousands families without support.

Experts among 150 people meeting warned social impact resettling 5,700 people forced leave their homes make their way dam, intended start generating electricity 2009.

They said key habitat hundreds Asian elephants other endangered species would destroyed.

The power plant project on Nam Theun, tributary Mekong river which cuts across much Indochina, has been on drawing board for 30 years but gained interest among investors only over last decade.
The World Bank has said roadshow discussions would provide feedback determine fate project.

The tour moves Bangkok Tokyo, Paris Washington before ending September 24 Lao capital Vientiane, where local groups could get rare opportunity quiz their rulers on wider political economic issues centering around project.

The government sees dam an essential part its plans alleviate poverty significant contributor landlocked agrarian states economic growth, its top official workshop said.
My government committed balancing development with preservation, said permanent secretary Somboune Manolom Lao ministry of industry.

He acknowledged potential graft project very much concern secretive state.
We have ensure significant part NT2 revenue will used poverty eradication environmental protection, he said.

The cash-starved Lao government bent on seeing venture implemented could generate revenue nearly two billion dollars – the current Gross Domestic Product value Laos – over 25-year period.

The developer project international consortium Nam Theun 2 Power Company Ltd (NTPC), where EDFI, global arm French state-owned Electricite de France (EDF), holds 35 percent key stake.

The Lao government Thailands Electricity Generating Public Co. Ltd. hold 25 percent stake each another 15 percent equity comes from joint venture Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd.

EDFs Jean-Pierre Serusclat, who chairman NTPC, said learning past mistakes on hydro-power projects vital. We have be humble dealing with human stuff, he said.

Serusclat said public consultations were vital dam process despite negative reaction several campaigners green groups.

By opening doors, obviously are getting more criticism input civil society, he said.