The Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos

Other Projects

The Lao government has announced its intention to build close to 30 new dams by 2020. Learn more about some key Lao hydropower projects, such as Nam Theun 1 and the Nam Ngum hydropower cascade. Download a map or a table of some existing and proposed Lao hydro projects.

Nam Tha 1

A community on the Nam Tha
A community on the Nam Tha
David J.H. Blake
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, according to a new report, the assessments were rushed and underestimated the environmental and social impacts of the dam. In particular, 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.

Among the major concerns expressed in the report is the fact that 34 villages will have to be resettled either to uphill regions that do not accommodate rice paddy plantings or to the forests of the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA). This situation may lead to increased 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. Pre-construction has started but researchers are uncertain about the project's cost-effectiveness and the potential market for its power. In addition, in violation of the National Hydropower Policy, construction of an access road is reportedly underway despite the lack of a complete report on the dam's environmental and social impacts.

See the latest 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 would 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.

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