Laos’ Dam Disaster May Not Be Its Last

Published onAugust 16, 2018

The Lao dam disaster in Attapeu province has cast a long, dark shadow of doubt about the safety standards and viability of dozens of other hydropower projects. This entirely preventable man-made catastrophe left 6,000 people homeless from floods and over 1,000 villagers unaccounted for. After the dam burst, the flood waters rushed from the Xe Pian river into the Sekong River, a major tributary of the Mekong River, near the border. The flood inundated many remote villages in Stung Treng province in Cambodia, leading to 5,000 villagers being evacuated in addition to the 13,000 people whose lives have been torn apart on the Lao side. The Lao government had initially tried to lay blame on the heavy monsoon rain. However, Dr. Ian Baird, director of Southeast Asian Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison University, argued to The Diplomat this was not the case. “The Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy dam did not break because of the heavy rain,” he said “The rains that occurred in the Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy Dam area were predictable and normal for this time of the year. [The dam broke] due to a combination of poor water management and poor construction. This was an avoidable human-caused disaster.”