Flooding the Nam Theun 2 Reservoir


A Lao man, his face and hands hardened by the sun and years of fishing, tends his water buffalo by the Theun River and wonders what his life will be like "after the flood". That's how he referred to the water that has now started rising behind the Nam Theun 2 Dam, which will flood an area more than four times the size of Paris - including the land his family has tilled for generations

Will this fisherman and the more than 6,000 other villagers who have been displaced ultimately be better off thanks to the Nam Theun 2 hydropower project, as the Lao government, the dam developers and the World Bank contend? Or will they face an uncertain future of rice shortages, reduced fish catches, and, ultimately, deeper poverty?

These questions loom large as the Nam Theun 2 Power Company, headed by Electricité de France, closes the dam gates this month on the largest single investment ever in the small country of Laos.

While those displaced by the project are living in better houses with improved water supply and electricity, major concerns remain about how they will feed their families and make a living. And time is running short to help prepare the more than 120,000 people living downstream who will face increased flooding, fisheries losses and water quality problems once the reservoir water is diverted into the Xe Bang Fai River in 2009.

Will Nam Theun 2 deliver on its promises to the Lao people? The outlook is worrying, though the answer may still be years away. Unfortunately, the people best placed to respond are the ones most rarely asked: the villagers watching the water rise behind the dam where their river used to be.

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