It could look like a warzone. Trees are burned down and broken, only the upper rank sticks out of the water. The remainders are inundated. It looks devasted, It is called ‘renewable’ energy.
International gains, local losses
As mentioned before Laos wants to become the battery of South East Asia. The warzone I’m looking it, is precisely that: a part of the battery. The Nom Theun 2 reservoir contains the water used for the Nom Theun hydro-electric plant in central Laos. The generated power will be exported to Thailand.
Before the project became in operation in March 2010, about 6,200 indigenous people were living here on the Nakai Plateau. They have been resettled. In addition, then 110,000 people living downstream, and depending of the Xe Bang Fai and Nam Theun rivers, are severely affected.
The water reservoir might bring electricity to Thailand and in return economic gains for the Laos’ government, it affected the water quality, destroyed riverbank agricultural fields and local fisheries of the above-mentioned communities. As often with international project, the local communities are not the ones that win. In addition to that, the project has severely impacted the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area.
Picturing the damage
To visit the site and map the real impact, I’m taking a local Songtaw to get me around. When we start the Songtaw is filled with people, they are friendly talking to me, and involving me in their conversations, although I do not get any word of Laos, a bunch of smiles and nodding keeps the conversation going.
While approaching the reservoir, more and more people left the Songtaw and only a couple of us will make it really to the other side of the lake. The lake is huge. The loop takes us more than 4 hours.
It is impressive and devastating at the same time. Everywhere I see, I see chopped of and burned trees, largely flooded. At some river banks there are even still huts and cabins, even some small vegetable gardens. I wonder if they will have to flee out when the rainy season starts, since the water level will rise significant. Moreover, I wonder if when the water level rises, it will completely inundate the destroyed trees, wiping out all the traces of its marvellous past.
Picturing the picture
One man is very attentive to my camera. Every time I appoint the lens towards the scenery, his eyes follow my camera looking for what I’m recording. He might be confused, trying to solve the mystery of the little black box, in which memories and realities are stored.
He watches from the camera to the other guy, back to the camera. He has no clue. The other guy could not care less and lays himself to sleep after rolling his eyes. But he keeps on questioning.
Then he gots it. While I’m staring at the right side of the vehicle, he touches my arm and appoints to the left side. An even bigger part of destroyed forest shows up, partly inundated, partly burnt down. Now he knows. I nod. In silence we continue the road, watching the same scenery, but now seeing both the same.