Vientiane Times, September 7, 2013
The Xayaboury dam will not have any long-term impact on the Mekong River, Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Vilavong told Thai news media in Vientiane yesterday.
Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) interviewed Mr Viraphonh in his office regarding the development of the dam and Laos’ plans for hydropower in general.
In building the dam, Laos has enshrined the two principle considerations of creating the greatest possible benefit while ensuring there is no long-term impact on the river, the deputy minister said.
The government is serious about not doing any harm to the river and recognises how important the Mekong is to the livelihoods of local communities.
“The Mekong is the lifeblood of the Lao people,” Mr Viraphonh told reporters.
To mitigate any negative impacts, the government has hired internationally recognised consulting firms to oversee the project’s development, he said.
Using run-of-river technology to develop the US$3.5 billion project, the minister said the dam would not store great quantities of water, which in any case will continue to flow downstream as occurs naturally.
Asked about the anti-dam movement that has raised issues regarding possible impacts, Mr Viraphonh said it includes non-government organisations (NGOs) and activists, who typically focus on individual aspects without weighing the overall benefits of development for the nation and the people.
He described it as looking at “one negative within a million positive aspects”, adding that no development can promise “zero impact” on the environment.
“The activists always want to keep the natural river untouched. They oppose dam development across the globe,” Mr Viraphonh added.
He stressed that the project will benefit not only Laos, saying most of the energy generated by the 1,285MW dam will be sold to Thailand to help that country meet its energy demands.
He added that the energy generated by the dam will be sufficient to meet the needs of 2 to 3 million people, based on current consumption rates.
In response to a question regarding the compensation given to displaced villagers, the minister said Laos has a law in place concerning compensation in such situations.
In this regard, a committee in charge of compensation affairs has been formed to oversee t he process and ensure that the communities affected gain better living standards.
“Every loss incurred by displaced people must be compensated,” he said. “Their livelihoods must be improved.”
Some 1,974 people from seven villages have moved or will move to new locations. People in three of the seven villages have moved to new homes. Another 1,126 residents of eight villages are required to move to higher ground but remain within their former communities.
These villagers now have access to healthcare, among other services, and their children are enrolled in newly built schools.
Mr Viraphonh said the Lao government welcomes media presence at the dam site. Reporters can visit resettled communities to see first-hand how they are benefiting from the project.
He said hydroelectric dam development in Laos and the associated compensation policy is built on lessons Laos has learned over more than four decades.
He cited the example of the Nam Theun 2 dam, a major hydroelectric power station in Laos that is internationally recognised for best practices in environmental and social responsibility programmes and for delivering better living conditions to displaced villagers.
“I believe I can say that all Lao people support the development of hydroelectric dams,” Mr Viraphonh said.