Norway in Laos: Ruining Rivers, Damaging Lives

Monday, November 26, 2007

Norway's state-owned power utility, Statkraft, has ruined the ecology of two rivers in Laos and the livelihoods of 30,000 people, reveals a newly-released report: Ruined Rivers, Damaged Lives. The report, commissioned by FIVAS, a Norwegian advocacy group, exposes the mounting social and environmental toll of the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project in the decade since it was completed. The Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) is co-owned by Statkraft, a Thai power company and the Lao government.

The FIVAS investigation details increasingly severe flooding along the Hai and Hinboun Rivers over the last nine years largely due to water releases from the project. Local villagers have suffered massive decreases in fish and other aquatic resources, for which the Company has paid no compensation. They have also been forced to abandon their rice fields due to the repeated loss of wet season rice crops. The flooding has caused water contamination, skin diseases, drinking water shortages, death of livestock from drowning and disease; as well as other temporary food shortages.

Statkraft and the Theun-Hinboun Power Company are proposing an expansion of the original project that could cause even more devastation. "It's outrageous that Statkraft, which is owned by one of the richest countries in the world, is making profits at the expense of some of Southeast Asia's poorest people;" said Mr. Andrew Preston, Director of FIVAS. "The Theun-Hinboun Power Company should abandon all plans for the expansion project until it has proven that it is capable of restoring the livelihoods of communities affected by the existing project,"

The report is being released in advance of a workshop being held by the Theun-Hinboun Power Company in Vientiane this week to review the proposed Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project, which involves the construction of a 65 meter high dam on the Nam Gnouang River and a massive water diversion to the Nam Hai and Nam Hinboun rivers. The Expansion Project will affect over 50,000 people who will suffer flooding, displacement, erosion and loss of livelihood if the project is approved.

In a cruel irony, many of the people to be affected by the Expansion Project have already been seriously affected by the existing Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project, and continue to wait for compensation almost a decade since the project started operation.

"It is irresponsible for the Theun-Hinboun Power Company to proceed with this Expansion Project when thousands of people are still waiting for compensation from the existing project," said Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director with International Rivers, who has been monitoring the project since it commenced operation in 1998. "The Company has been negligent in fulfilling its obligations to thousands of people living downstream of the project who have suffered from serious flooding, decimated fisheries and other livelihood losses."

The project was funded by the Asian Development Bank and Norad, the Norwegian aid agency, both of whom initially claimed that the project would have minimal impacts on communities and the environment.