BANGKOK August 31, 2004. Over 200 people from government, civil society, academia, media, development agencies, and the private sector came together today to discuss the proposed Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric project in Lao PDR, against the broader context of promoting development in Lao PDR, a country where poverty is entrenched – 70% live on less than US$2 a day and social indicators – maternal and infant mortality, literacy – among the lowest in East Asia.
Dr. Somboune Manolom, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Handicraftspresented a picture of the reality of Laos, and noted that 80% of Lao live in rural areas; that 40% of villages practice slash-and-burn agriculture; 70% of the labor force has no education or did not finish primary school; life expectancy is 59 years; 1 in 10 children die by age of five and 1 in 4 adults die by age 40. “These are sobering statistics. Many of these indicators are improving, but much remains to be done, which is why rural development and poverty reduction programs are so important to my government. Nam Theun 2 has the potential to deliver a significant and predictable stream of revenue that would have a very clear positive impact on national development.”
The Bangkok workshop, sponsored by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is part of an international series of workshops to be held in Tokyo, Paris, Washington DC, and Vientiane, and intended to provide an opportunity for public comment and discussion on issues relating to the proposed project and to specifically comment on the series of safeguard documents which have been made public in draft form since May 2004.
Mr. Ian Porter, Country Director for Lao PDR, said, “Today’s discussion is not only about the proposed dam, but about Lao’s development options more broadly – it’s not just about the social and environmental impacts of the proposed project but also about Lao’s overall macroeconomic and structural reform agenda designed to promote growth and improve the lives of millions of poor Lao people.”
Mr. Porter noted in his remarks that the international financial institutions (IFIs) – the World Bank and Asian Development Bank – which have not yet made a decision on whether to support the project, are considering Lao’s request to finance NT2 because they believe, if properly managed and implemented, NT2 could bring significant benefits to the Lao people by providing incremental revenues for poverty reduction and environmental protection; that the safeguard policies of the IFIs help to ensure that social and environmental risks are mitigated; and that IFI involvement brings standards of transparency and accountability to project preparation in the framework of the broader reform agenda in Lao PDR.
The workshop covered a range of topics around Lao’s development framework and project specific issues, including environmental and social safeguards; project economics; revenue management; and local consultations. Each session featured presentations by resource persons with the rest of the time devoted to open discussion.
Key issues of concern to Thai and Lao stakeholders were raised throughout the day in a frank and open debate. Thai participants discussed their experience with the social and environmental impacts of Thai dams, including downstream impacts on fisheries and livelihoods, resettlement and social disruption, and mitigation programs. Both sides expressed willingness to organize visits by villagers to compare experiences and learn from each other. They also compared experiences with local consultations, and approaches to analyzing the economics of Thai power demand. Additional issues interdependence of forest areas; protection of elephants and other wildlife; social impacts of construction such as migration; encroachment and illegal logging.
A full summary report will be compiled by Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakhan of the National Institute for Development Administration, who served as independent moderator for the workshop. Concluding the workshop, she noted that development is a series of trade-offs, not a panacea, and that every society has to make difficult choices; indeed there could be no development without choice. “This was a healthy forum, in which a wide range of stakeholders aired their concerns.”
Mr. Urooj Malik, Director, Infrastructure Division, Mekong Department for the ADB, commented, “This process of consultation and discussion provides an important opportunity for interested parties in the international community to give input to supplement the significant local consultations in the project area. Together the comments and views of local and international stakeholders will help ensure the project brings the greatest benefits to the people of Lao PDR.”
Mr. Jean-Pierre Serusclat, Chairman of Nam Theun Power Company (NTPC) said, “This process is an exercise in good governance for the Government of Lao PDR and its private partners. We believe this project will contribute to Lao’s development goals at the local, regional, and national level and are contractually bound to working with the Government and local population to ensure that the project is carried out in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.”
Mr. Bounsalong Southidara, Deputy Director of the Watershed Management and Protection Authority (WMPA) addressed one of the key environmental concerns – partial flooding of the Plateau to create a dam reservoir – by outlining the Government’s vision for the management of the project-affected areas and of the project watershed, in which they seek to balance conservation with development needs through an intensive, participatory planning process, emphasizing systematic negotiation and customary rights. “While the Plateau will be partially flooded by the creation of the reservoir, the project will provide long-term income funding for the management and protection of the Nakai Nam Theun (NNT) National Protected Area – regarded as one of the dozen most biologically diverse hotspots left in the world. The “SEMFOP” (a key safeguard document) aims to protect the most important biodiversity area in Laos, and to improve and sustain the livelihood of its inhabitants,” he concluded.
Providing technical background to the discussions was the set of safeguard documents, listed below and available on-line at www.namtheun2.com. They included the Environmental Assessment and Management Plan (EAMP) which assesses project impacts and plans to minimize, mitigate or compensate for these impacts; the Social Development Plan (SDP) to manage social impacts including those related to resettlement, health and downstream impacts in the Xe Bang Fai and to manage special issues related to ethnic minorities; the Social and Environment Management Framework and 1st Operational Plan (SEMFOP) to manage the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area and its Corridors – the conservation of which is provided by the project as a compensation for a portion of the environmental impacts related to the project; and the Summary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (SESIA), which is a summary of the 3 safeguard documents and has been translated into Thai, Lao, Japanese, and French languages.
She noted that within two weeks of the closing date for comments (September 3) that a summary report of the workshop would be circulated to workshop participants and to the broader public through the website www.worldbank.org/lao. Comments about the workshop can be sent directly to Dr. Juree’s team at email@example.com; or mail to: Center for Philanthrophy and Civil Society; NIDA; 118 Klong Chan, Bangkapi, Bangkok 10240.
The aim of these international workshops, beginning with Bangkok, is to allow an open and well-informed discussion that can in turn inform decision making related to the project and capture specific comments and ideas related to the safeguard and other project documents which are currently in draft. These workshops complement the local consultations with project-affected communities, which are ongoing since May 2004. Local consultations have also been held previously in the project affected areas.
Following Bangkok, the technical workshops will continue in Tokyo (September 3); Paris (September 7); Washington DC (September 10); and Vientiane (September 24). The international workshops will conclude with the Government hosting in Vientiane.