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Families harmed by Laos dam project

The south east Asian country’s The Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) started selling power from its dam on the Nam Theun River to Thailand last week. More than 6,000 people were rehoused to make way for the 1,070-megawatt dam.But campaigners in the US have demanded the power company stop running the plant in Laos until its owners have fully compensated the families affected by the new dam for damage to their land.

International Rivers accuses NTPC of breaking its agreement not to start selling power until it has honoured its commitment to residents, whom the watchdog says are now living on very poor land that is difficult to farm. "They are actually happy with the new houses... the health centre, the education, but all of them are saying they have a difficult time to find food," Ikuko Matsumoto, said the group's Lao programme director.  But she said she saw nothing of the irrigation NTPC had promised to provide to improve the soil, when she visited the villages last week. "There is a concrete tank sitting in the middle of the field, but the villagers can't use the water yet." And none of the families moved by the company have had any payments from NTPC, Ms Matsumoto said. "How the company is going to compensate for these people is not really clear, and the villagers don't know when and how much," she says.But The World Bank, which supervised and monitored the dam building project, denied International Rivers’ claims. "The notion that the project is in violation of legal agreements is incorrect," the Bank said in a statement to Agence France Presses news agency.The power company said that many people were already benefiting from a compensation programme that has been implemented for several years. And it added that it was working on a batch of social and environmental programmes and that independent monitors were checking the progress to ensure it met its promises.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, but will it is set to earn an estimated two billion dollars over the 25 years the power company will own the project, NTPC said. Environmentalists have long protested against the project, which started in 2005. The 1.45-billion-dollar Lao-French-Thai dam has a generating capacity of 1,070 megawatts.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children