In the image made from aerial video taken Tuesday, 24 July 2018, villages are inundated with floodwaters from a collapsed dam in Attapeu province, southeastern Laos. The KPL news agency said Wednesday on its website that officials in Attapeu province also reported more than 1,300 houses damaged by flooding after an auxiliary dam at the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower project partially collapsed on Monday night. Photo: LNT / Associated Press

By Mike Ives
29 July 2018

ATTAPEU, Laos (The New York Times) – As heavy rains lashed southern Laos over the weekend, volunteers from many countries were continuing to help victims of earlier flooding caused by the failure of a foreign-funded hydropower dam.

“It shows the spirit of humanity,” Yen Saisamon, a 17-year-old Laotian volunteer, said on Friday at a relief center in the town of Attapeu, where cardboard boxes of instant noodles and condiments were labeled in Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Yet if foreigners are helping now, they also share a piece of the blame. The accident at the billion-dollar Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric project last week has cast a harsh spotlight on the default agenda of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party: selling natural resources to foreign companies while evading scrutiny for investment projects that exacerbate rural poverty — or, in this case, kill innocent villagers.

Laos’s one-party communist government and the international financial institutions that support it have long embraced a “high-wire act” of prioritizing investment over stronger regulation, said Keith Barney, an expert on Laos at the Australian National University. But in the accident’s wake, “the potential pitfalls of poor regulation are now evident for everyone to see,” he said.

The South Korean company that is the main builder of the hydroelectric project has admitted that it knew the dam was deteriorating a day before it failed.

People wait for rescue on a rooftop after a newly built hydroelectric dam broke in southeastern Laos on 23 July 2018, flooding the surrounding countryside and killing at least 24 people. Photo: The New York Times

Mr. Barney said the accident at the dam, part of the hydroelectric project, was perhaps the biggest challenge to the ruling party’s legitimacy since its handling of the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, which led to rapid inflation. Officials may now face more pressure to incorporate social and environmental protections for rural people in the push for development, he said.

“Their response could either build confidence in the government or undermine it,” Mr. Barney said, likening the challenge to the one that President George W. Bush faced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. [more]

Laos Dam Failure Exposes Cracks in a Secretive Government’s Agenda


A girl uses a mattress as a raft during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos, 26 July 2018. Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / REUTERS

By Hau Dinh
25 July 2018

ATTAPEU, Laos (Associated Press) – Rescuers searched Wednesday for scores of villagers left missing when part of a newly built hydroelectric dam broke in southeastern Laos, flooding the surrounding countryside and killing at least 24 people, officials said.

Thousands of people lost their homes when the South Korean-built dam gave way on Monday, flooding surrounding villages.

Hundreds took shelter in nearby towns, traveling by bus and pickup trucks and sleeping on plastic sheeting.

“The water came so quick we just left the house and ran away,” said Phon Vuongchonpu, whose family of 12 fled as the floodwater rose to roof level. “We’ve lost everything: motorbike, furniture our cows and pigs.”

Bounyong Phommachak, a Red Cross official, said 24 bodies had been recovered and 96 people were officially listed as missing. He said by phone that about 6,600 people had been displaced from their homes.

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, which maintains one of the very few foreign news bureaus in Laos, reported that Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said at a news conference that 131 people were missing and the homeless totaled 3,060. He did not give a death toll.

The discrepancies in the tolls could be due to difficult communications and heavy rains in the area which have hampered rescue efforts.

Sanamxay villagers sought safety on the roofs of their houses to escape the flooding following the dam collapse on 23 July 2018. Photo: CNN

Photos and videos posted on social media showed people sitting on rooftops to escape the surging water, while others were carried to safety or rescued by boat.

One of five auxiliary earth-fill dams at the project began visibly weakening on Friday, said Korea Western Power, one of two South Korean partners in the hydroelectric project.

SK Engineering & Construction, the other Korean joint venture partner, said the top of the dam was swept away Sunday as workers were struggling to control the damage amid heavy rain. The situation worsened on Monday as water cascaded out of the reservoir, flooding seven out of 12 villages in the area, SK E&C said. It was helping to evacuate and rescue residents and sent its president and a team of 30 people to the disaster zone. [more]

Laos dam disaster leaves 24 dead, scores missing

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