Locals reap little benefit in Laos’s controversial hydroelectricity ambitions

Mountainous and landlocked Laos, known as the “Battery of Asia,” is building dozens of dams at breakneck speed so it can sell energy to power-hungry neighbors as a fast track out of poverty.

But the communist country’s ambitious power plans are highly controversial.

Most energy is exported to the neighboring countries Vietnam, Cambodia and China, with the lion’s share going to Thailand, whose Bangkok mega-malls alone suck up huge amounts of power.

That leaves local communities with little of the revenue from projects that often require compulsory resettlement of hundreds of villages and reshape the landscape and river systems.

And the dams can be deadly. On Monday, the collapse of a hydropower dam sent a torrent of water charging across paddy fields and through villages.

The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Co., a hydropower project that involves Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms, on Monday told local officials in a letter written in English that one of its subsidiary dams was “unsafety” and had started to overflow, and requested that they inform downstream villages. It was not clear what time the letter was delivered.

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