World Bank finance for Laos dam a blow for the environment

Posted on 01 April 2005  | 
Gland,Switzerland – The World Bank’s decision to support the construction of the US$1.2 billion Nam Theun II (NT2) hydropower dam in Laos poses a threat to the environment and people living in the region, according to WWF.
On Thursday, the World Bank announced its decision to partially underwrite borrowing for the project in the Mekong basin, which gives a green light to other international financial institutions to offer more support. Of the total cost, US$855 million is supposed to come in loans.
The project will start producing 1,070MW of electricity in 2009. WWF believes the World Bank never provided a convincing and rational explanation of the need for the additional electricity produced, of which 90 per cent will be pre-sold to Thailand. 
Currently electricity supply in Thailand outstrips demand. WWF believes that even allowing for significant growth in demand over the next decade, any additional needs can be met more sustainably through energy efficiency measures and small scale renewable energy projects. 
“The growing number of hydropower projects in the Mekong basin need proper assessment of their cumulative impacts,” said Marc Goichot of WWF’s Living Mekong Programme. “A lot is at stake as the Mekong is not only a biodiversity hotspot but is also a major food source for those living in the region.” 
There are more than 1,300 species of fish, providing a major source of protein for more than 50 million people who live in the lower Mekong basin. Dams, such as NT2, have been identified as a major threat to fisheries. 
WWF is particularly concerned that the NT2 dam, which involves a major diversion of water from the Nam Theun River to the Xe Bang Fai River, will disrupt the farming and fishing activities of up to 130,000 people. The global conservation organization also warns that the flooding of 40 per cent of the Nakai Plateau in southern Laos will threaten the already endangered wild elephant populations. 
“We fear that this dam rather than reducing poverty will only increase human misery and environmental degradation,” said Ute Collier of WWF’s Dams and Water Infrastructure Programme. “We challenge the authorities in Laos and the World Bank to prove that this is not the case.” 
For further information: 
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager
WWF Global Freshwater Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9030
Dararat Weerapong, Communications Manager
Tel: +66 2 524 61 68
Brian Thomson, Press Officer
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9562
WWF warns that indiscriminate dam-building is threatening the world's largest and most important rivers. Srisailam Hydro Electric Project, Andhra Pradesh, India.
© WWF-Canon / Brian Thomson Enlarge

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