VIENTIANE – At approximately 8:00 p.m. local time on 23 July, the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam on the Xe Pian River in Laos collapsed. Within minutes, eight Laotian villages were completely destroyed whilst others were inundated, making travel and escape impossible.
Reports on the number dead, injured, or missing vary as time goes by. It is known, however, that as many as 7,000 people have been displaced from their homes by the onrushing, five million cubic meters of water.
Save the Children is among the agencies responding to the disaster, planning to provide essential items to families with children. The situation remains in flux whilst the agency conducts a “rapid assessment” of the area to accurately determine the immediate and long-term needs. The dam is in a remote area of the country, which will make relief operations difficult.
Deputy Country Director Vilasack Viraphanh expressed concern that “Children are particularly vulnerable in all emergencies and require special assistance to cope during and in the aftermath of such an event. We will work alongside the government to provide whatever assistance we can to families as they start trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.”
News source, Christian Today, reported that “State media showed pictures of villagers, some with young children, stranded on the roofs of submerged houses. Others showed villagers trying to board wooden boats to safety in Attapeu province, the southernmost part of the country.”
The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam, part of a major hydroelectric project, was still under construction when it collapsed. This is the second year in a row in which a dam has collapsed in Laos. One of the poorest nations on earth, Laos is hoping to kickstart its economy by building a series of 22 dams to harness the vast river systems, enabling the country to sell electrical power to the booming economies of China and other neighboring nations.
The Xepian-Xe Nam Noy dam was one of the second set of 11 dams necessary to complete the project by which Laos hopes to become “the battery of Southeast Asia.” A spokesperson for the NGO International Rivers estimated that the country has a total of 100 hydroelectric projects either completed or in progress throughout the entire country.
A lesser-reported aspect of the tragedy is that this was not the first time that many of these people had been displaced. They had moved to and built these villages when they were forced to move several years ago to make room for the reservoir that the dam is intended to create.
As many as 131 people are still reported as missing,
- Save the Children, Save the Children to respond to catastrophic dam collapse in Laos
- Christian Today, 3,000 need rescue after catastrophic Laos dam failure
- Taiwan Times, Laos disaster reveals the ugly side of hydropower in Southeast Asia
- The Economist, A dam disaster in Laos
- Khmer Times, Laos dam collapse:19 dead, 49 missing, 2,851 rescued
- MWC News, Laos: Bodies found amid flooding, hundreds remain missing
- Matthew Summerton [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons