About 70 percent of survivors have returned to their villages a year after the catastrophic dam collapse last year in Attapeu, amid ongoing efforts to rehabilitate flood victims.
The disaster occurred on the night of July 23, 2018, when water poured over a saddle dam at the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower project in Champasack Province, leaving at least 70 people dead and over 14,000 living in emergency shelters. The floodwaters caused severe damage to private property and infrastructure.
Governor of Attapeu Province, Leth Sayaphone, said at a press conference on the state of affairs in Sanamxay District last week that over the past year progress had been made on the rehabilitation of flood victims, with the construction of housing now complete, as well as restoration of necessary infrastructure including electricity and groundwater.
“More than 10,000 have returned home while over 4,400 are living in temporary shelters,” said Governor Leth.
Floods destroyed houses and property in a total of 19 villages, affecting 3,540 families, or 14,440 people. Total losses include a death toll of 71 and USD 15 million in damages.
Governor Leth added that the victims have also been provided with relief funds and food stipends, while land for production had been restored.
In particular, the people of Sanamxay affected by the flood have now received 50 percent of the compensation owed to them, he said.
The allocation of land is being made in accordance with the number of family members; families with one able-bodied worker will receive one hectare of land, while those with two or three able-bodied workers will receive two hectares.
More than LAK 3 billion (USD 345,540) has been spent on the purchase of agricultural equipment and materials. Fruit and vegetable seeds and seedlings have been dispursed, alongside fertilizer and agricultural equipment and agricultural vehicles.
“Every effort is being made to ensure that these families have workable land and can resume production as quickly as possible,” said Governor Leth. “We will ensure that the livelihoods of flood victims are gradually restored and improved.”
In January the Lao government approved a special budget package worth LAK 500 billion (USD 58.7 million) to repair basic infrastructure damaged by flooding.
At that time, the government estimated that the economic loss caused by the disaster had been estimated at approximately USD 147 million amid damages on a number of roads, bridges, irrigation facilities, and other basic infrastructure, according to Lao News Agency.
It also estimated that the total loss could increase to USD 500 million due to the delayed repair of damaged infrastructure, which could impose negative impacts on production activities in the country over time.
Dispute over the cause
In May this year, the Lao government released the result of the investigation on the cause of the dam collapse, important not only to ongoing rehabilitation and compensation efforts but also to future prevention measures.
The National Investigation Committee (NIC) formed by the Lao government said that the dam collapse was not a “force majeure” event and it could have been prevented by adequate treatment measures.
The NIC’s conclusion was based on the result of the investigation by a panel of professional and independent experts, the Independent Expert Panel (IEP).
Such findings prompted an immediate rejection by SK Engineering & Construction, which is one of the main shareholders of the Xe Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company.
The South Korean firm said it conducted an analysis based on location, methodology and third-party analysis designated by the IEP, and the final data did not support the panel’s conclusion, urging the Lao government to investigate and verify the cause of the accident in an objective and fair manner.
Domestically, the firm’s move has met backlash from people who believe the company is attempting to avoid responsibility and neglecting compensation efforts.
Seoul-based civic group “Task Force to React to Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Accident” last month criticized both SK Engineering and the South Korean government for being “passive” in terms of taking responsibility.
The group cited the fact that the South Korean government also funded the hydropower project through the Economic Development Cooperation Fund, urging it to take concrete action to support victims.
The South Korean government has not commented yet on either the Lao government’s investigation or SK Engieering’s response.