Vientiane Times, 11 June 2013
International Finance Corporation (IFC), a private arm of World Bank is helping the Lao government to revise the water law to sustain water management and hydropower development in the country.
According to the international financial institute, the IFC and the government are holding several public consultations, where stakeholders from the government, civil society, and international organisations can give their feedback on the draft law.
“I think the proposed introduction of water permits would be very beneficial for hydropower companies,” said Robert Allen Jr., general manager of the Theun Hinboun Power Company as quoted in an IFC newsletter. “Water permits would help us resolve conflicts with other water users and ensure that we have access to the resources our business depends on,” he said.
The introduction of a formal, permit-based system of long-term water rights is one of the main objectives of the revised water law. Currently, hydropower companies are granted water rights for their projects through concession agreements. In reality, it can be difficult to enforce such rights however.
The draft of the new water law proposes that small-scale users, such as households, would be exempt from the water-permit scheme. Instead, the Department of Water Resources, under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, would manage water resources to ensure that sufficient water is reserved for basic needs and environmental requirements, fishing, and irrigation.
The Department of Water Resources is still consulting a wide range of stakeholders on the draft water law, which is now available on the department’s website. It will take into account all the comments raised through the consultation process. The revised water law will be submitted to the national assembly for approval by the end of 2013.
The IFC will continue to work directly with hydropower companies in Lao PDR through the planned Hydropower Developers’ Working Group under the Lao Business Forum to improve the sector’s sustainability.
According to the IFC, Laos is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, but rich in natural resources. The many rivers that run through the country represent an opportunity to generate renewable energy through the development of hydropower, which the Lao government has identified as a key driver for national socio-economic growth.
During the past decade, the country has experienced an unprecedented influx of investment in hydropower and now has about 20 hydroelectric projects. Another 40 to 50 projects are expected to be operational by 2025.
While hydropower boosts economic growth, it also increases competition among water users. That’s why the Lao government, with support from IFC and the World Bank, is revising the country’s 17–year-old water law to ensure equitable management of water resources in the future.