Hundreds missing in Laos after hydropower dam collapse

2018-07-24 10:49

Hundreds of people are missing and an unknown number believed dead after the collapse of a hydropower dam under construction in southeast Laos, state media reported on Tuesday.

Several dams are being built or are planned in Laos, an impoverished and landlocked communist country that exports most of its hydropower energy to neighbouring countries like Thailand.

Laos News Agency said the accident happened at a hydropower dam in southeastern Attapeu province's Sanamxay district late on Monday, releasing five billion cubic metres of water – more than two million Olympic swimming pools.

The report added that the there were "several human lives claimed, and several hundreds of people missing".

Several houses in the southern part of the district were also swept away, the report said, and officials in the province put out a call for relief aid for flood victims.

The $1.2bn dam is part of a project by Vientiane-based Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Power Company, or PNPC, a joint venture formed in 2012.

Among the companies involved in the project according to the Laos News Agency are Thailand's Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, South Korea's Korea Western Power and the state-run Lao Holding State Enterprise.

The 410 megawatt capacity dam was supposed to start commercial operations by 2019, according to the venture's website.

The project planned to export 90% of its electricity to energy hungry Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.

Under the terms of construction, PNPC said it would operate and manage the power project for 27-years after commercial operations began.

When contacted by phone in Laos' capital Vientiane a company official told AFP: "We do not have any official reports about it yet. We are gathering information."

'Battery of Asia'

Dam projects in Laos, mainly providing power to neighbouring countries, have long been controversial with fears over environmental damage and the impact on communities who are often displaced to make way for the construction.

A massive hydroelectric project at Xayaburi, led by Thai group CH Karnchang, is at the heart of Laos' plan to become "the battery of Southeast Asia".

The 1,285 megawatt dam – which will cost $3.5bn according to state media – has sharply divided downstream Mekong nations like Vietnam and Cambodia who worry it will disrupt vital ecosystems and their own river systems.

Communist authorities in Laos keep tight control information and is often opaque about business deals and development projects.

The country has around 10 dams in operation, 10 to 20 under construction, and dozens more in planning stages.

"Once they cast themselves as the battery of Asia, exporting electricity became one of the major revenue sources, so it's basically selling natural resources such as water," Toshiyuki Doi, Senior Advisor at Mekong Watch, told AFP, adding he was not aware of a dam collapse.

Occasionally reports of accidents do emerge.

Six Vietnamese workers were killed when a gas cylinder exploded at the construction site of a hydropower plant in central Laos in July last year.

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