The Lao government is embarking on an plan to inspect all 55 dams in the country nearly one year after the collapse of a saddle dam that caused a disaster described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades.
The disaster occurred on July 23, 2018, when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Champassak and Attapeu provinces, leaving many more missing.
The government inspection is focusing on the structure, design and technical specification of the dams, while inspectors are also checking whether the dam developers are properly insured and have knowledgeable consultants on hand.
“The ministry is inspecting all the dams in the country for safety so that we can avoid an incident like last year’s happening again,” said an official of the Ministry of Energy and Mines in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service on Monday.
“After the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoi dam collapse, we are inspecting the dams all over again to make sure that the construction [projects] are carried out according to the plans and meet all safety standards. We’re also looking at the design, technical standards, force resistance and anti-agitation force of the dams.” the official said.
Though the inspection plan is in its infancy, the government has already uncovered noncompliance in several of the dams.
“So far, we’ve discovered that some small dams are not up to standards. They don’t have the [necessary] consultants and insurance [in place],” said the official.
Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told local media on June 26 that relevant authorities will be inspecting all existing dams as well as those still under construction, to prevent any kind of incident from happening again, and to prevent loss of lives and property.
He said that if the inspectors find any faults, the construction of that dam must stop. So far, several projects have been canceled due to substandard construction.
According to International Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, the current Lao hydropower development plan includes 72 new large dams, 12 of which are under construction and nearly 25 in advanced planning stages.
The Lao government says the dams will help pay for anti-poverty and other social welfare programs, but International Rivers asserts that much of the power generated by Laos is sold to neighboring countries and then resold to Laos at higher rates.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.