Asia Minute: Laos Dam Collapse: An International Incident

Jul 25, 2018

Villagers take refuge on a rooftop above flood waters from a collapsed dam in the Attapeu district of Laos. The official Lao news agency KPL reported Tuesday that Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam in Attapeu province collapsed Monday evening, releasing large amounts of water that swept away houses and made more than 6,600 people homeless.
Credit Attapeu Today / Associated Press

Hundreds of people are missing following the collapse of a hydroelectric dam in Laos. Rescue efforts are still underway amid flooding and heavy rains. And the project itself is coming under closer examination.

The state-run Lao news agency says more than 6,000 people are homeless following the collapse of a hydroelectric dam still under construction.

Laos is one of the poorest nations in Asia — a land-locked communist country surrounded by Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and China. Conditions have improved, the World Bank says the size of the Laotian economy more than doubled from 2010 to 2016 — in part because of increased foreign investment.

That includes hydroelectric projects — like the dam that collapsed this week in the southeast part of the country.

Neighboring Thailand has been an eager customer for electricity, which has become a leading export for Laos — accounting for nearly a third of its total exports according to the Lao news agency.

The dam project that collapsed was built by an international consortium — the Associated Press quotes corporate documents showing two South Korean firms with a majority interest. 25 percent of the venture is held by a Thai company, and a Laos state company has 24 percent. While much of the financing for the billion-dollar project came from Thai lenders.

The dam and power plant were scheduled to go online next year with only ten percent of the electricity produced planned to be used in Laos, and the remaining 90 percent bound for Thailand.