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Environment, Human Rights

Laos pushes ahead with Pak Beng dam


A man paddles a boat in an area that will be flooded to form the dam reservoir. Photo: Jenny Denton

Mongabay, 8 February 2017: The Pak Beng dam is the third of nine mainstream dams planned for the Mekong in Laos, and the second in a cascade of six on the country’s upper stretch of the river.

At the Happy Bar, on the bank of the Mekong River, the Bob Marley mixed tape starts up at the same time every night after the tourist boats dock. Reggae standards float out over the mountain jungle, tired but soothing with their message of peace, love and positivity.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Bob sings, as Beerlao bottles clink under colored lights, “Coz every little thing’s going to be alright.”

Residents of the area are worried, though, about the construction of a huge hydropower dam 14 kilometers upstream from here.

The Pak Beng dam has been on the drawing board since 2007, when Chinese developers and the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding, and construction is expected to begin this year. But while various studies and preparatory works were launched years ago, during a visit in January Mongabay learned that few people around the dam had been briefed about the project.

“There’s very little transparency around the development of these projects,” Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia program director at International Rivers, told Mongabay. “Very limited information is available to communities and other stakeholders before the Prior Consultation process is launched. And we know from experience that by that stage the decision has essentially been made and many of the relevant deals are in process or have already been concluded between companies involved.”

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