Residents displaced by massive flood waters from the collapsed dam seek shelter in Paksong town in Champasak province on July 25, 2018. // AFP PHOTO
Residents displaced by massive flood waters from the collapsed dam seek shelter in Paksong town in Champasak province on July 25, 2018. // AFP PHOTO

Laos gets tough on dams

national July 26, 2018 01:00

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

13,039 Viewed

New regulations and safety procedures to be enforced; death toll rises to 26.



TWO DAYS after the country was swamped by one of the worst dam disasters in its history, Lao authorities have ordered new safety |procedures for hydropower dam projects.

The collapse of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Dam in the southern Lao province of Attapeu on Monday has left at least 26 people dead and an estimated 100 missing as of yesterday.

Lao Energy and Mine Minister Khammany Inthirath yesterday announced new regulations to ensure safety of all hydropower dams in the country, as well as proper water management to reduce risks from floods damaging people’s lives and properties from water discharge, especially during storms in the monsoon season.

On Monday night, the rapidly rising water level in the reservoir of Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Dam following continuous heavy rains, damaged the supporting saddle dam, causing devastating floods in the downstream area.

Residents displaced by massive flood waters from the collapsed dam seek shelter in Paksong town in Champasak province on July 25, 2018. The bodies of 17 people have been recovered after a dam collapse led to flash floods in southern Laos, as two South Korean firms involved in the hydropower project said damage was reported at least 24 hours before the disaster. // AFP PHOTO

More than 7,000 people had been displaced as of yesterday after large areas of Attapeu and Champasak provinces were inundated.

The overflowing water from the dam also raised the levels of the Mekong River and caused floods in the nearby Steung Treng province in Cambodia.

Laos’ Energy and Mine Ministry said in a statement that the country has been hit by extraordinarily severe rainy weather due to the impact of tropical storm Son Tinh, triggering floods in many parts of the country. There was also a danger to the stability of other hydropower dams.

The ministry ordered the operators of all hydropower dams to closely monitor the weather and precipitation as well as the water levels in the reservoirs to prevent damage to the dams.

Every dam operator will have to submit a report on the water situation, the electricity generation plan, the condition of the dams’ facilities, and the emergency response plan |to the ministry once every seven days.

The ministry also made it mandatory for all dam operators to collaborate with local authorities to draft an emergency response plan in case of disasters to warn people and evacuate them if necessary.

Also, if the dams needed to change the water outflow rate, they have to notify people downstream at least seven days in advance to allow them to prepare for the impact from the discharge.

A resident is seen in the flooded area in Sanamxai, Attapeu province, on July 25, 2018. Rescuers recovered 19 bodies and hundreds remain missing after a dam collapse swamped several villages in southern Laos, as survivors on July 25 questioned why they got little warning of the deluge. // AFP PHOTO

According to the Lao Energy and Mine Ministry, there are 54 operational hydropower dams across the country. 

Laos has heavily invested in hydropower in recent years, as the country is pursuing its national strategy to become the “battery of Asia”, by generating power from its rich water resources and selling the electricity to neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer at Maha Sarakham University, said the disaster could have been prevented if the owners of the hydropower project had adhered to safety principles and had been equipped with an emergency response system.

“This dam did not collapse because of the overwhelming water level in the reservoir, as the Lao officials and the project owners tried to explain,” Chainarong stressed.

“The reservoir was not even full when a part of the dam subsided and collapsed. This clearly shows that the true cause of this disaster was improper construction of the |dam and the constructors of this project are fully responsible for all damages.”

He said the project’s partners must provide full compensation to every person affected by the disaster, otherwise they would be violating the principles of business and human rights protection.

The Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower dam project is a joint venture between four companies from South Korea, Laos and Thailand with a total budget of US$1 billion (Bt33 billion). 

The project, with electricity generating capacity of 410 megawatts, was scheduled to start commercial operations next year.

The dam reservoir has a total area of 522 square kilometres with water storage capacity of around 1 billion cubic metres.