The Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos

Other Destructive Pipeline and Legacy Projects

The Lao government has announced its intention to build between 120 and 140 new dams. Below are some hydropower projects in the pipeline and some projects which were built in the past and have left behind a lasting devastating legacy on affected communities.

Nam Tha 1

A community on the Nam Tha
A community on the Nam Tha
David J.H. Blake
The site of the Nam Tha 1 Hydropower Project is located in the mountainous northwest corner of Laos. Nam Tha 1 would require the resettlement of nearly 8,000 mostly indigenous people. It would also impact downstream communities along the Nam Tha River and the mainstream Mekong.

While a contractor for the state-owned Guangxi Electric Power Industry Investigation Design and Research Institute (GXED) conducted an EIA and SIA for the project, they failed to take into account the effects the dam would have on water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and the challenges that the resettled population would face.

It is estimated that up to 34 villages will have to be resettled either to uphill regions that do not accommodate rice paddy planting or to the forests of the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA). This situation may lead to rapid deforestation, as villagers will need to clear land for dry-land rice production. While the dam is also expected to flood only a small portion of the Bokeo Reserve and the Nam Ha NPA forests, it could have immense negative effects on these national parks through a loss in aquatic resources, an increase in hunting pressure and logging, and a loss of forest cover and erosion due to road building and power line installation.

First proposed in the early 1990s, the Nam Tha 1 Dam only recently started to move forward due to the involvement of China Southern Power Grid. Preliminary works have and construction attempts have been  intermittent, as the project's cost-effectiveness and the potential market for its power remain in question.

See International Rivers report for more information on Nam Tha 1 and other dam projects underway in Laos.

Read a letter calling on China Southern Power Grid to pull out of Southeast Asia dams.

Nam Theun 1
The Nam Theun 1 dam is planned to be built downstream from the Nam Theun 2 and Theun-Hinboun hydropower projects, about 30 kilometers from the Mekong confluence. This Thai-Malaysian dam sponsored by Gamuda and EGCO would be built in the middle of Laos' remote Nam Kading National Protected Area, an area classified by conservation organizations as one of 35 global biodiversity "hotspots". Its reservoir would effectively divide the protected area in two, destroying large swathes of riverine and terrestrial wildlife habitat. Hunting and poaching pressures are already on the rise; and even before an environmental impact assessment has been approved, project roads have been constructed into the park. Reports indicate that more than 3,700 people will be displaced to make way for Nam Theun 1, and that communities downstream can expect decreases in water flows, water quality, and fisheries. Nam Theun 1's economic viability has also been questioned, especially considering the development of the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project upstream.

International Rivers has written to Gamuda and EGCO to request more information about Nam Theun 1. 

Read a briefing paper on Nam Theun 1.

Nam Ngum Hydropower Cascade
The Nam Ngum River Basin includes parts of the Xaysomboune special zone, Vientiane and Xiengkhuang provinces in central Laos. The Nam Ngum hydropower cascade includes one dam in operation (Nam Ngum 1), another under construction (Nam Ngum 2), and at least six more proposed projects: Nam Ngum 3, Nam Ngum 5, Nam Lik 1 and 2 and Nam Bak 1 and 2. These projects are primarily being developed by Chinese and Thai developers, with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank support (through its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) anticipated for at least two of the proposed dams.

An ADB-sponsored report on the cumulative impacts of hydropower development in the Nam Ngum river basin indicates that proposed dams would have serious impacts on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Laotians. But the flawed planning process makes it unlikely that this cumulative impact assessment (CIA) will have any influence over decisions taken on whether or how to proceed with these hydropower schemes.

Read a letter to the ADB regarding its involvement in the Nam Ngum River Basin.

Read a press release on the CIA's findings.


Nam Song Diversion Dam

Completed in 1996, the Nam Song Diversion Dam was funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at a cost of $31.5 million. It was designed to divert water to the Nam Ngum reservoir to increase the generating capacity of the Nam Ngum 1 Dam. In 2001, an ADB-commissioned study concluded that the project had "caused severe impacts on aquatic ecosystems and human use by 13 villages."

These impacts include severe declines in fisheries for more than 1,000 families, the loss of boats and fishing nets, agricultural lands washed away by flooding or erosion, and clean water shortages. Eight people have died due to sudden releases of water from the project. The ADB consultants estimated total losses since Nam Song's diversion to be worth nearly $2 million. But for years the ADB refused to publicly release the findings of this investigation. It also failed to ensure that the Lao government adopted the report's recommendations.

After years of inaction, and sustained pressure from International Rivers, the ADB and the Lao government finally agreed to an environmental mitigation plan for Nam Song in January 2007. While International Rivers welcomes these belated efforts, the proposed plan is insufficient and will not adequately replace what villagers have lost, nor compensate them fairly. Map of the area can be downloaded here.

Nam Leuk Dam

"Since the dam was built, some fish species have disappeared entirely. Consultants promised fish ponds and other compensation, but these have not appeared."

– Leader of the Ban Nyang Kheua village, October 2002

The Nam Leuk Hydropower Project was promoted by the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese and Lao governments as a way to lift Laotians out of poverty and conserve the fragile Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area. Eight years since its completion, the project has accomplished neither of these objectives.

Thousands of Laotians have suffered livelihood losses and health impacts because of Nam Leuk. The $130 million project, which diverts water from the Nam Leuk to the Nam Xan river, has caused declines in fish populations, submerged riverbank vegetable gardens and affected dry season water supplies. Promises of compensation have not materialized.

The project is located in the Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area in Vientiane Province. Although it was approved, in part, to protect Phou Khao Khouay, management of the protected area is inadequate and revenues are not being properly allocated towards the protected area.

In 2004, the ADB's Operations Evaluation Department produced an audit of the Nam Leuk project detailing the dam's unmitigated impacts and broken promises. After years of inaction, the ADB and the Lao government finally agreed to an environmental mitigation plan for Nam Leuk in January 2007. While International Rivers welcomes these belated efforts, the proposed plan is insufficient and will not adequately replace what villagers have lost, nor compensate them fairly.