|What is being done to mitigate environmental impacts of hydropower developments?|
A: The Lao Government accepts that large hydropower projects will, inevitably, have some impact upon the environment and local communities. In more developed countries there may be other, more appropriate, alternatives for revenue generation. However, in the Lao context, the government firmly believes that the positive benefits outweigh the negative impacts. At the same time, it is committed to ensuring that all reasonable steps will be taken to assess and mitigate any impact if a project to be considered a true success.
Energy use within the country is still dominated by the use of fuelwood, which accounts for about 90% of total energy requirements. However this is a non-sustainable resource and the government recognises that the significant logging involved can also cause unwanted impacts on the environment.
Responsible hydropower development has an interest in ensuring that the large financial investment in the project is not jeopardised by catastrophic erosion and siltation and loss of storage within the reservoir. All hydropower projects proposed in Lao PDR require a catchment management program that will primarily focus on reforestation and catchment protection. These programs will not only ensure the stability of the catchment but will also re-establish fauna habitats. The programs will be best integrated within a Protected Area Management System funded mainly from income generated from the hydropower development itself. The government has set up a Watershed Management Protection Authority (WMPA), under the direct authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, with the specific remit of managing conservation in watershed areas.
There can be problems associated with a shortage of properly trained and funded personnel who are responsible for conserve the existing forest and wildlife resources in the project area, but properly funded and managed hydropower projects can also promote environmental conservation.
The government will ensure that each hydropower project developer undertakes an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).