NGO fears Lao hydropower impact

The Theun-Hinboun dam in Laos. Vientiane is waking up to the reality of the nation’s hydropower potential. Source: Wikimedia

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has called on Laos to better understand the environmental impact of its hydropower projects to ensure sustainable development, as Vientiane signed a mysterious deal with North Korea.

Kate Lazarus, team leader for the Mekong Sustainable Hydropower Programme at the IFC, was quoted by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua saying that Vientiane saw hydropower as an important source of income and means to rid its least developed country status.

“Hydropower investments require lengthy and thorough study to determine project feasibility and impact. The environmental and social impacts from hydropower projects need to be understood and managed. Government policy needs to be continually updated,” Lazarus said.

“With abundant water resources, hydropower, if developed and managed well, can be shared regionally through wider connectivity of the grid, benefitting neighbouring countries,” she added.

Laos is expected to develop more than 60 generation projects by 2020 up from the current 38, bringing electrification to 98 per cent of households compared to 85 per cent today, the Ministry of Energy and Mines claimed.

According to the Ministry’s Vision 2030 presented to January’s five-year 10th Congress of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which rules the one-party state, the country’s installed hydropower capacity by 2030 was projected to reach 17,000 megawatts. Of this, 10,000mw could be expected to be exported, it said. The export of power would provide a significant economic and fiscal contribution in the landlocked, import-dependent state, the plan said.

Meanwhile, North Korea and Laos have signed a security agreement, the pariah state’s media reported. It is thought the deal might involve the enforced repatriation of North Korean defectors in Laos, which is a popular staging post for defectors looking for asylum in South Korea.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a delegation of the Ministry of People’s Security had talks with a delegation from the Laotian Ministry of Public Security to discuss “mutual concern and boosting the cooperation of the two security organs”. As two of the world’s most secretive states, few reliable details were divulged.

Concern has been raised that the agreement relates to the repatriation of North Korean defectors in Laos. Nine teenager defectors were captured in Laos in 2013 and forcefully returned to Pyongyang, resulting in condemnation by rights groups. North Korea and Russia signed an extradition treaty last month.

“In general the position of the office is that bilateral agreements of this type should fully respect the principle of non-refoulement and protect people from forced repatriation,” Tarek Cheniti, a deputy representative of the UN Human Rights Seoul Office, told the independent NK News.

Laos and North Korea established diplomatic ties in 1974 and have cooperated in trade and technology.

“Laos signed and ratified the UN convention against torture, which bans every country from extraditing a person to where they would be in danger of being subject to torture,” said Ahn Younkyo, said a UN spokesperson.