While I realize the brave and hard-working people of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) are stretched thin in their struggles against the building of destructive dams along India's rivers, I can't help but wish that some of their strength, organizing skills and experience could be outsourced to Laos, where thousands of people there are about to be swept away in the name of development...
Construction of the $1.3 billion Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos - the biggest in the nation's history - is fast underway. A development consortium of state-owned Electricite de France, the Lao government and two Thai companies are already clearing land on the Nakai Plateau in the Lao jungle. A pilot resettlement village is being developed so that the 6,000 plus people who will be displaced by the dam can learn to live there, crowded together, growing unsustainable crops. As for the over 200,000 people who use the Xe Bang Fai river to eat, drink water and bathe - well, noone talks about what will happen to them once the NT2 is built.
The Lao government has even set up a flashy Web site for foreign investors to browse through. The site, deftly named Powering Progress, is fully equipped with video clips featuring the voice over of a man with a heavy British accent telling viewers that Laos is "a window to the future" for development in Asia. A little over 35% of all the dams being built in Asia right now are in Laos - a country of 6 million that is about the size of the American state of Utah. Image that, given all the world knows about the destructive and unproductive effect large-scale dams have on a developing nation's ecology and population - the beleagured people of this small landlocked nation are being inundated by them. Behold the power of progress.
The International Rivers Network has documented the effects of other dam projects in Laos and the government's inadequate responses to resettling the internally displaced and staving off the epidemics of malaria and malnutrition that sweep through the regions where dams have been built.
The construction of the TN2 dam is particularly distressing because of the global implications it has: the World Bank sees this as its ticket back into the arena of financing these destructive projects. Following the 2000 World Commission on Dams report, which damningly proved the disastrous effects of big dams in the developing world, the bank and other international, debt-producing, lending institutions have been loath to finance large projects. Securing funds to the Lao government for TN2 would open up the flood gates, if you will, ushering in a new wave of money and interest into the dam-building industry.
This is just another project in economic development that is strikingly destructive to the people it is supposed to benefit. I can only ask in this instance the same questions I ask whenever foreign investors plunder a nation with the complicity of its government, which in turn touts the benefits of said plunder to its people (and to other foreign investors): Development for who? and for what?