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Doing a Dam Better: The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Story of Nam Theun 2

Doing A Dam Better

Dams, which draw electricity from moving water, provide a clean, alternative energy source. When implemented correctly, hydropower becomes a catalyst for a better economy and a better life for people. But when dams are built without environmental or social safeguards, there may be significant consequences.

Doing a Dam Better was produced to share a story of the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) dam in Lao PDR. NT2 has been transformative for Laos. Revenues of its sales are being channeled into development projects in the country. It is expected that NT2 will generate US$2 billion for the Lao Government to invest in education, health, infrastructure and environmental protection programs, largely contributing to poverty reduction in Lao PDR. Nam Theun 2 was able to improve on the experiences of previous hydropower projects, thanks to its focus on smart management, technical expertise, and effective communication.

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Doing a Dam Better not only chronicles NT2 throughout its inception to what it is now but also provides a rich set of lessons for other big infrastructure projects in developing countries. Here are some outlined in the book:

  1. Apply safeguards. The World Bank’s willingness to participate in the project was based on the government’s commitment to use revenues from the sale of hydropower to reduce poverty and provide effective environmental and social programs.
  2. Find common ground. In a project with multiple participants, each group has objectives that are not always consistent with each other. Finding an acceptable criteria for everyone involved is crucial for project planning and reaching an acceptable financial arrangement. 
  3. Effective communication. Information about NT2 was shared in English and local languages. Local consultations helped create a team of local facilitators who were trained and empowered to serve communities affected by the construction of the dam.
  4. Form an independent panel to monitor progress. The International Advisory Group and the Environmental and Social Panel of Experts were essential for providing credibility to project preparation through an independent and reliable review process.
  5. Foster a good relationship with the government. Building trust with the government required extensive knowledge of the country’s political and cultural conditions and the formal and informal rules that apply. The World Bank was gradually able to develop trust because the team assigned to the project worked persistently to understand and become more sensitive to the political and cultural situation in Lao PDR.

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In Vientiane:
Meriem Gray
+856 21 450010

In Washington, DC:
Mohamad Al-Arief
(202) 458-5964


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