The landlocked communist Laos has for the last five years embarked on its growth-oriented development strategy which aims to build multiple dams to export electricity to neighbouring Thailand. Such policy has created a contentious debate both within and outside Laos about the question of sustainability and the impacts on the environment and local communities. Unlike being traditional state-owned dam projects, in Laos, hydropower programme has been carried out as privatized schemes. As a result, international dam builders have entered Laos and played a pivotal role in the hydropower development. This has brought with it new and highly sophisticated technological methods and business practices for the old-fashioned communist Laos. Among them are the environmental impact assessment (EIA) exercise and associated consultancy practice. This new circumstance has coincided with Laos? social and economic transition during which the country?s institutional capacity, eg. environmental regulation, monitoring and enforcement, is still very weak. There has not been any mechanism in place to ensure that the views of local communities are being taken into the consultants? assessment. As for the local communities themselves, the understanding about the implications of the EIA process as well as of the impacts of large dams is still limited. These factors, combined with local people?s existing attitude that political decisions are state affairs, contribute to the weakening quality control of the EIA and consultancy process. The consultants who carry out the EIA, on the other hand, have become powerful in their influence on the decision making process and automatically their performance has gone unchecked by the public. Against this background, the local communities stand clear to be the ``losers´´ in the development process. More importantly, the wider and long lasting impact, aside from social and ecological ones, is the weakening of communities? strength and self-reliance ability, which are the fundamental tenents of local democracy. Thus, this research study attempts to answer these questions: do the EIA technology and its consultancy practice fulfill their obligations to fully internalize social and ecological externalities in their assessment? Or do they serve to legitimize hydropower projects and become part of the dam advocacy process? How can various development institutions which are active in Laos become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, and contribute to promote more democratic decision making and public participation regarding the hydropower development?
|Effective start/end date||01/01/2001 → …|