Laos’s Dam Accident: Could It Have Been Prevented?

Laos has been and is still shaken with the terrorizing effects the accident of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam (which was still under construction) caused. It all started in the night of July 23, when approximately five billion cubic meters of water flooded the homes of a part of the population, leaving approximately 6,600 people homeless and (until now) 24 confirmed dead.

The dam was originally designed to help divert water around a local reservoir and had started being constructed in 2013, with plans to finish by the end of 2018. It was being built by PNPC (Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Power Company) and was the first build-operate-transfer project to be undertaken by Korean companies in Laos.

Though there had been previous obvious indicators that the construction of the dam would be prejudicial to the surroundings of the Mekong River, the constructions kept moving forward, as if the environmental issues were a small price to pay in comparison to what would be the new “battery” of Southeast Asia: hydropower. As one of the poorest in the world, the Southeast country is incredibly dependent on foreign assistance and the possibility of an economic boost with hydropower might have, indeed, seemed like a tempting idea. Besides that, what sounds quite incoherent is how unheard the complaints related to the environment were when Laos is still a country very much based on agriculture and thus, dependent on nature.

Although the reasons for the collapse are still unclear there are several points that might indicate an unwanted fragility of the structure, as a spokesman for SK Engineering & Construction said to the BBC: “We believe parts of the upper part of [the] dam were lost due to heavy rainfall, and water overflowed from the supply dam.” That means, that until now, the weather seems like the one to blame for the accident.

What is quite curious though, is that in the same day the accident occurred PNPC warned workers and residents the dam was “dangerous” and “unsafe” due to the heavy rainfall; and if an accident occurred it would be disastrous to the surrounding of the dam, so citizens and workers should have been prepared. The letter sent to these people is what started to raise suspicions of the calamity might have had been prevented if only there was a greater care for the safety precautions.

The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam accident definitely has been a needed wake up call of the necessity to be meticulous about the safety of constructing in areas that are as close to citizens as the dam mentioned above. Even though it is understandable how important it is to invest in new lines of economy and industries,  it is even more important to think about the people. Also, especially for a project as big as this one, thinking about proper precautions and adjustments in case of any accidents is of extreme significance.

With rescue teams already on the areas affected and more on the way, it is saddening to know that Laos is now having to deal with the harsh consequences of an accident that might have been possible to prevent if only there was greater care for safety precautions. And it will most definitely ways serve as a reminder of the importance of such care in any future projects.



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