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Survivors of deadly Laos dam collapse homeless a year on: Report

Survivors of deadly Laos dam collapse homeless a year on: Report

Displaced residents arriving by boat in floodwaters in Attapeu province on Jul 24 after a dam collapsed. (Photo: AFP / Attapeu Today)

BANGKOK: Thousands are languishing in displacement camps in Laos a year after a dam break unleashed floodwaters and killed dozens of people in the impoverished state, a new report on the anniversary of the disaster said Tuesday (Jul 23).

For the past decade, Laos has been on a dam-building spree to serve as the "battery of Asia", but experts have long warned about environmental dangers and the breakneck construction pace.

An auxiliary dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydroelectric project in southern Laos collapsed on Jul 23 last year under the pressure of rising monsoon waters, sending floods downstream and killing an estimated 71 people though the official toll is lower.

The disaster is believed to be the deadliest dam accident in Laos history and allegations have pointed to construction flaws by the builder.

The massive rescue efforts following the dam collapse in Laos have been complicated by the remote location of the disaster. (Photo: AFP/Nhac Nguyen)

The report by conservation groups said nearly 5,000 people are living "hand to mouth" in camps without adequate food and housing while firms behind the US$1 billion project have yet to adequately compensate victims.

READ: Floods from Laos dam collapse force evacuations in Cambodia

International Rivers, which released the findings, said the disaster should serve as a lesson for the hundreds of other dams planned in Laos and other countries along the Mekong river.

"For too long, repeated warnings from scientists, communities and civil society have been disregarded," International Rivers Southeast Asian programme director Maureen Harris told AFP.

A flood victim receives food aid from Laotian relief pesonnel in Sanamxai, Attapeu province on Friday (Jul 27). (Photo: AFP/Nhac Nguyen)

The displaced residents in Laos are living in stuffy prefabricated structures and subsisting on meagre rations, according to the report.

Families of victims have received government payouts but the new report is calling on developers to step up and use insurance money to address claims.

An official from the South Korean builder SK E&C, one of the firms involved in the consortium managing the project, told AFP it is "willing to actively cooperate" once the Laos government investigation findings are released.

Close-up map of southern Laos locating the area affected by Monday's dam collapse. (Photo: AFP/Gal ROMA)

Laos is an authoritarian one-party state unused to the outside scrutiny brought by the collapse.

READ: Laos dam collapse affects more than 10,000 people: UN report

Its prime minister said in rare comments last year that the communist country will press on with its ambitious hydropower strategy but vowed to intensify oversight.

The Xe Pian Xe Namnoy project is expected to send most of its electricity to Thailand and may be operational later this year.

Experts say the sprint to build dams in the power-hungry region threatens the flow of the Mekong, disturbing fish migration and seasonal flooding patterns for millions living along its banks in neighbouring countries.

The river starts in China and crawls down along eastern Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, ending in Vietnam.

Source: AFP/aa


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