South Korea groups ask for investigation into Laos dam 'collapse'

Frederick Owens
July 27, 2018

Thailand has provided assistance to Laos after a hydroelectric dam collapsed in the country's southeast, leaving hundreds missing and forcing thousands to evacuate.

The $1.02 billion project encompassing several river basins in a remote corner of southeastern Laos is the first hydroelectric dam to be built by a South Korean company, and it was unclear how severe the damage would be to the overall plan.

But according to a timeline the firm provided in a report to a South Korean lawmaker and obtained by AFP, it said "11 centimetres of subsidence was found at the centre of the dam" as early as Friday. Sign-up now and enjoy one (1) week free access!

Several dams are being built or planned in the impoverished and landlocked country, which exports most of its hydropower energy to neighbouring countries like Thailand. Laos authorities have not given any official information about how badly the dam has been damaged, what caused it to break or when the flooding is expected to recede.

Residents on rooftops surrounded by floodwaters in Attapeu province in southern Laos after the dam collapse.

Its government depends nearly entirely on outside developers to build the dams under commercial concessions that involve the export of electricity to more developed neighbours, including power-hungry Thailand.

The dam in Laos' Attapeu province is around 70km from the Cambodian border.

"There are 19 bodies recovered so far, but we cannot estimate the number of missing yet", Chana Miencharoen, said, adding roof-level flood waters have submerged several villages near the Xe-Namnoy dam.

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An official from South Korea's SK Engineering & Construction (SK E&C), one of the companies building the project, confirmed to TIME that fractures were observed on the dam before the disaster, and an evacuation of the 12 surrounded villages was recommended.

The under-construction dam collapsed at 8 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Monday, releasing 5 billion cubic meters of water in hours. It was helping with rescue efforts and trying to contain further damage. Most of the financing for the project came from Thai lenders.

South Korea's Yonhap News agency reported that SK E&C sent its president to Laos and set up an emergency team in Seoul.

International Rivers, which works to stop destructive hydropower projects in Laos, said in an April report that hydropower dams on the Mekong River's lower mainstream pose a serious threat to the region.

In a briefing, the president also ordered the team to check the health conditions of South Korean employees working at the site, for families in Korea. It said hundreds of people were missing, without providing details.

Ian Baird, associate professor of geography at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Laos expert, said the collapse of the subsidiary dam was unlikely to affect others in the project, but added that the dam can't be fixed until the dry season. Only 10 percent of the power generated was to be used locally, with 90 percent exported to Thailand.

According to the joint venture's website, the project involves the construction of a series of dams, reservoirs and water transfer conduits to contain and divert waters of the Xe-Namnoy and Xe-Pian rivers in Attapeu Province to a downstream hydropower generating plant in Champasak Province.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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