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Laos Dam Bursts, Displacing Thousands, Claiming at Least Two Dozen Lives

A collapsed hydroelectric dam in a remote region of Laos on July 23 severely floods villages and leaves thousands homeless.

ABC reports that, when the dam burst after days of intense rainfall, 6,600 people were displaced, of whom 3,000 required rescue. At the time of writing, it is estimated that around 24 people have died, while 96 are officially listed as missing. When the under-construction Xepian-Xe Nam Noy in southeastern Attapeu Province ruptured, five billion cubic meters of water were released into the surrounding countryside, according to The Guardian.

The government quickly responded by sending in rescuers on boats. “We are running an emergency team and planning to help evacuate and rescue residents,” a spokesman for one of the Korean construction companies involved in the dam explained to the news source. Local authorities are calling for donated supplies, while the International Red Cross is readying shipments of water purification systems.

Hoang Anh Gia Lai JSC, a Vietnamese conglomeration, prepared a helicopter to rescue 25 Lao and one Vietnamese employee trapped in a rubber plantation, but it was unable to take flight due to continued rain. The area is a major producer of rubber, fruit, corn and palm oil, and the flood will force cultivation to halt until the waters retreat, with some of the land ruined.

The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy Dam is a US$1 billion joint venture between several South Korean and Laos companies. The project broke ground in 2013 and was scheduled for completion by the end of the year, with planned operations to start in 2019. The 410MW project is built on three Mekong tributary rivers: the Houay Makchanh, Xe-Namnoy and Xe-Pian rivers. 

Some 90% of the energy produced by the dam was slated to be sold to Thailand, bringing in US$33 billion to the impoverished nation. It is part of Laos' plan to generate income through ambitious hydroelectric initiatives which include the construction of 72 dams. Environmental groups have expressed concern over the environmental impact of such developments, claiming that such alterations to the Mekong River system could reduce fish stocks by up to 40%. Vietnam, in particular, is already feeling the effects, with increased erosion, triggered migrations and a drastically diminished fishing industry

[Photo via The Guardian

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