Vientiane Times, July 7, 2012
By opposing plans for sustainable hydropower development, the nongovernmental organisation International Rivers is working against the Lao people. As someone born and raised in Laos, I feel there is a need to refute this anti-development NGO’s claim that they are helping our cause.
International Rivers is a California-based organisation whose declared mission is to “protect rivers and defend the rights of communities.” According to its web site, “International Rivers works to stop destructive hydropower projects in Laos and advocates for the rights of communities affected by dams, such as Nam Theun 2, Theun-Hinboun, and the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project.” I have been involved in social and environmental impact and resettlement programmes for power projects including Nam Theun 2, and I know for a fact that many more people have been helped than harmed by the resettlement process.
Now International Rivers is stepping up opposition to the Xayaboury Hydropower Project and the proposed Don Sahong project in the south. Many Lao people question why International Rivers is trying to derail hydropower development that will bring huge foreign capital vital for the country’s poverty eradication programme.
Everybody knows that hydropower is a clean, green form of energy that brings direct and indirect benefits to our people. By stopping development, International Rivers would be robbing us of the opportunity to give our people better health, better education and better living conditions.
Dams are not going to kill us. In many ways, dams will protect us from socio-economic insecurity and give us the resources to look after ourselves. Without foreign cash from the sale of hydropower, how could the Lao government afford foreign expertise to train our people to farm better, to fish better, to look after our natural resources better, and secure economic opportunities for a better future? After all our government intends to meet its MDGs and get out of Least Developed Nation status by 2020.
Ever since Laos announced plans to tap the powerproducing potential of the Mekong, International Rivers has maintained the Xayaboury dam would block fish migration as well as the flow of sediments and nutrients, affecting agriculture and threatening the lives of 60 million people downstream as far as the Mekong Delta. This kind of exaggerated claim shows they are willing to ay anything and blame dams for everything.
In my village, in Nongbok district, Khammuan province, we have lost over 200 metres of land through riverbank erosion over the past 60 years. I hope with the earnings from hydro development the bank erosion in my village and others can be stopped. While International Rivers claims to help dam-affected people, it is clear that they only focus on those who mourn what they left behind. They never show the positive benefits such as new homes, better land for farming and livelihood training provided as part of resettlement requirements. If International Rivers succeeds in its irresponsible campaign to stop all hydropower projects, poor Lao people will be deprived of these benefits.
It would be very sad if our people did not get new schools and clinics; if they did not get new roads and bridges and new opportunities. It would be very sad if they do not get a chance to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
Chareun Sayakoummane is a resident of Ban Sokpaluang who works for a local registered company called Chareun & Associates, of which he is a founder. The core business of the company is social and environmental impact assessments for hydro projects throughout Laos.