Oct 20, 2007

Environmental Destruction a Go Go

I read a couple of online sources of information about Laos and lately it seems like I should leave my computer off. Every time I log on a new source of eco destruction awaits me.

Within the last month I have learned of;

A proposed lignite (soft sulphurous coal) power plant to be built in Xayabouli province at the site of the former annual elephant ho down in Hongsa. New Mandela

Ferry Boat at the Thadua crossing Xaiyabouli

A hydro power dam on the Nam Tha, would flood out 15 villages some of which are resettled Lao seung. You know those people brought down to the river valleys to “modernize” them and wean them from growing opium. It’s all in Nalae district, which I’m unfamiliar with. More Mandella

I found out about an intended 1410 mega watt plant in Luang Prabang while trying to find a link for this post. Reuters

The one that hits home the hardest is the dam on the Nam Ou of about 600 mega watt capacity with three more in the plans. It’s the most beautiful big river I’ve seen in Laos. Pnomsin Blog

Kids making ripples on the Nam Ou above Hatsa

In Vientiane the Tat Luang marsh is slated to be developed by a Chinese investor into an instant city. When driving out of town this tributary of the Mekong called Houay Mak Hiao was always my indicator that the city had been left behind. It’s beyond the two big markets of Ban Tat Luang. When driving over the bridge you can see all the rice growing up and down stream. The Lao government proposed a site further from downtown, but the Chinese insisted. Whose city is it anyway? I guess the person with the money’s.

One ray of hope is the simple math of this message posting to an online group, sorry can’t link.

"Given that the Lao Government budget revenues amount to around $500 million a year, a simple calculation indicates that a 20% investment in the hydro scheme would amount to around a third of government budget revenues for any given year. Given also that the government is concurrently signing several such agreements I wonder where the government contribution is coming from. Is it simply a gift from the developers in return for government complicity? "
The writer is referring to the one hydro plant on the Nam Ou, estimated cost $700 to $800 million.

My worry is that modernization will mean that corrupt officials are now better able to quickly strip Laos of it’s existing timber, poison it’s watersheds with effluent from various mines, and flood all the lowlands for exported electricity? Is China the example of what Laos will look like in twenty years?


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right. I have been here (Laos) for 8 years now, and I have yet to see one positive piece of news where the "government" (that's how they call themselves) is involved. There is no hope for this country. I am leaving soon, back to Europe, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Where they get the money from? Ask any government official with $ 25 a month how he got his 40 thousand dollar car - but of course you never get a clear answer here... Depressing! Dezwitser.

Somchai said...

Well thank you for reading my online attempts to figure out what the heck is going on. As a tourist I'm not exposed to the country long term, and seldom talk to anyone who is. I’m just looking out the bus window, and reading.

Mostly a big Thank You for working 8 years in Laos. That’s a big chunk of one’s life, and that also means you first came to Laos in .. hmm .. 99 I guess. I suppose it must be tough to be leaving and feel like that guy rolling the rock up the hill in Greek mythology. You get so far and then the darned thing rolls on back down again.

I hope that in hindsight you can also see the positive changes that you and others like you have had. Today in the Vientiane Times I read how the minister of agriculture and forestry complained at the legislature that the logging ban was being broken by local officials and that intra provincial smuggling was going to end. Who knows, at least people are making noises.

I was also looking at the scale on Google Earth last night. Looks like about sixty miles (100km?) across Phongsali Province at about the halfway mark, down below Luang Prabang where things narrow a bit about 150 miles across the country, and down where things are really narrow below Vientiane a ways about sixty. Not many valleys or mountains. Wouldn’t take much to change the place.

Anonymous said...

The government usually pays for its shares of these projects via royalty diversion or via dividends. So the project reduces the amount it would have paid the government in taxes by X amount that is credited to the government as part of their purchase price.

Anonymous said...

The Ou is a beautiful river and the center of the lives and livelihoods of many. many villages. Dams on the Ou is a tragedy for future generations. Yes, hydro could be a source for funds to improve the lives of the people. But the money from the deals flows into the pockets of the government big shots, while the people have their lives disrupted, possibly destroyed. Sad, but the country belongs to the Laotians, it is up to them, and they are too passive (passivity, acceptance is at the core of the culture) to assert themselves against the resource sell offs and the criminal class that runs the government. There are softer ways to say this, but why bother? It is what it is. Or so it seems to me, based on more than 15 years here.