Big dam project in Laos aims to minimize environmental and social damage

A controversial hydropower dam under construction in Laos will serve as a test case for whether a large dam can be built without trampling too heavily on the natural world and human rights. Supporters, including the World Bank, say the Nam Theun 2 dam will set a new standard for social and environmental responsibility. Activists aren’t convinced; they’re concerned about the 6,000 people to be displaced, the dam’s location next to a forest with endangered species, and the effect on water quality for up to 100,000 people downstream. Nam Theun 2 will supply most of its generated electricity to Thailand, earning an estimated $2 billion for the Laotian government over the next quarter century. The government — which critics warn has a reputation for corruption — says it will use the funds to help halve the nation’s poverty levels and provide electricity to all homes. Laotian officials say an additional three or four dams are in the works for the next decade.