The process of consultations has been continuous throughout the NT2 project. Every year the project organizes a "Stakeholder Forum" where interested people have a chance to visit the site, discuss developments and share their concerns.
September 19, 2007–– At a recent Hydropower Forum held in Bangkok, environment and social practices under the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project were mentioned as an "example" to be followed.
“I think it would be very good if any project, not only in our country, could follow this standard,” said the Lao Minister of Energy and Mines, Borsaykham Vongdara. He was speaking in early September at the first Lao-Thai High-Level Forum for Sustainable Hydropower convened by the Thai and Lao Energy Ministries and supported by the World Bank.
Newsweek magazine has also recently referred to it s a “kinder and gentler dam,” while a group of social and environmental experts who advise on the project said it had the potential to become a global model.
What sets NT2 apart?One of the defining features of NT2 has been the comprehensive environmental and social measures designed to mitigate potential impacts and to ensure all World Bank safeguards are complied with.
These measures have been put in place along with a programmatic approach that aims to maintain Lao PDR’s macroeconomic stability and economic growth, and targets project revenues to poverty reduction and environmental protection.
Local communities in Nakai Plateau are benefiting from high-standard resettlement programs under the NT2 project. Villagers contributed to the design of their new houses and villages which are equipped with water and electricity.
Patchamuthu Illangovan, the Lao PDR country manager who has worked on the project for the past five years, said, “NT2 was studied for many years and careful consideration was given to the views of local people and the external stakeholders.
“Financial, economic, infrastructure, social, and environmental measures were designed in response to these views,” said Illangovan.
Before the World Bank approved its support for the project in 2005, it was agreed that it needed to meet the country’s and the communities’ goals: revenues from the dam must be used for poverty reduction and environmental protection programs.
Local communities had to benefit from high-standard resettlement programs and livelihood development activities.
Moreover, a thorough process of consultations and the highest levels of transparency had to be in place. This led to in-depth consultations at the local, national and global level, with feedback from people ranging from villagers in the Nakai Plateau (site of NT2) to civil society organizations working in Tokyo.
The World Bank team says the importance of early consensus building around roles and accountabilities of everyone involved and the flexibility in implementing mitigation plans have also been key.
“We set out to design a project using the best knowledge available — within the World Bank and outside of it — and then to put in place mechanisms that would allow us to closely monitor it,” Illangovan said.
Of course, NT2 continues to have its critics. There are civil society organizations who question whether hydropower development is the right path for Lao PDR and whether the dam is meeting the standards it set for itself. Dialogue on these and other concerns is ongoing to contribute to the discussion on how hydro projects can be developed in the best way possible.
Local interaction with villagers has been ongoing during the NT2 project. Sybounheung Phandanouvong (right), World Bank social scientist, speaks to villagers about the livelihood programs being developed in their village.
Meanwhile, the Thai counterparts—the main buyers of Lao’s electricity, including electricity from Nam Theun 2, say the project is setting higher standards. “Hydro projects in Lao have shown the world that hydro projects can be environmentally friendly,” said Thai Minister of Energy Piyasvasti Amranand at the recent Hydro Forum in Bangkok.
Hydro Forum Builds on NT2 Experience
The Hydro Forum in itself is testament to the importance stakeholders place on developing more sustainable hydropower projects like Nam Theun 2. The event marked the first coming together of this diverse group of stakeholders to discuss developing Lao’s resources in the most economically, financially, socially, and environmentally friendly way.
“The real test for NT2 is whether it can emerge as a high standard of practice that can be applied to other projects,” said the Bank’s country director for Southeast Asia, Ian Porter. “We need to continue to develop hydropower better—in a way that is beneficial all around, and sustainable.”
The next NT2 implementation update to the Board of Executive Directors is expected in December 2007.