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Pak Beng dam, Lao PDR


The Pak Beng Hydropower Project is the first dam in the cascade of hydropower projects planned on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong River, most of them in the Laotian part of the river. With an installed capacity of 912 megawatts, the dam will be  located about 14 kilometers north of the town of Pak Beng, in Laos, and 92 kilometers from the Thai border [1].

Approved by the Lao government in February 2017 [2], even though the project was first considered in 2007, the dam has been very controversial due to its potential local but also transboundary impacts. Thus, the official Social Impact Assessment identified 26 villages in three provinces of Oudomxay, Xayabury, and Bokeo in Lao PDR to be directly impacted by the project with a total of 923 families or 4,726 people affected [3]. The organization International Rivers published an independent review of the Environmental Impact Assessment that highlighted that the report done by the company contained an inadequate analysis of the impact of the dam in the fish populations and limited assessment of the social impacts, both in Laos and in Thailand [4].

The Mekong River Commission has also recommended [5] to conduct further studies on the impact on the reef of Keng Pha Dai, “recognised as a natural monument for demarcating national border between Thailand and Lao PDR”[3] and improvements in the management of sediment. Sediments are one of the main environmental concerns regardings dams in the Mekong river since changes in the patterns can have important impacts for the downstream ecosystems, especially in the Delta, located in Vietnam.

There have also been critics since little of the profit will remain in Laos. Thus, the developer will be a China-linked company, Datang (Lao) Pak Beng Hydropower Co., Ltd [6], together with Thailand's Electricity Generating Public Company Limited (EGCO Group), a subsidiary of EGAT, and Électricité du Laos (EDL). 90% of the electricity generated is proposed for sale to Thailand.´

The project has also been challenged in court. On 8 June 2017, the Rak Chiang Khong Group representing a number of  Thai communities living close to the Mekong river filed a lawsuit against two Thai agencies, the Water Resources Department and the Thai National Mekong Committee, for flaws in the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), that the government was supposed to conduct before approving projects in Mekong river. The case was initially dismissed in the lower court. In November 2017, the Supreme Administrative Court agreed to consider an appeal [7].

Laos government has been heavily investing in hydroelectric projects over the last years as a part of its plan to become the battery of Asia and turn the exports of electricity one of its main revenues. According to the Lao News Agency, in 2017 had 46 hydroelectric power plants with 54 more planned or under construction. Some of the most controversial dams, due to their social and environmental impacts, are Xayaburi, Don Sahong and Nam Theun 2.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Pak Beng dam, Lao PDR
Country:Lao PDR
State or province:Oudomxai province
Location of conflict:Pak Beng
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Capacity: 912 MW [3]

Investment: 2,372 million USD [3]

Area: the dam will flood 4,178 hectares of land and create a 7,659-hectare reservoir

Project area:7,659
Level of Investment: 2,372,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:4726
Start of the conflict:01/02/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Electricite du Laos (EdL) from Lao PDR
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) (EGAT) from Thailand
Datang Pak Beng Hydropower Co., Ltd from China - Developer
Relevant government actors:Government of Laos
Mekong River Commission (MRC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group,
Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC),
International Rivers (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:NGOs are proposing to change the energy model in the region to promote other alternatives such as solar energy.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project is still ongoing even though a case is open in a Thai court.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

1995 Mekong agreement

[5] Technical Review of Pak Beng Hydropower Project, Mekong River Commission, May 2017

[6] Website Datang (Lao) Pak Beng hydropower Co., Ltd

[1] International Rivers, Briefing on Pak Beng Dam Lawsuit,

[2] Future Directions, Laos: Pak Beng Dam Project Approved, but at What Cost?, March 8 2017

[3] Factsheet about the Pak Beng Hydropower Project, Mekong River Commission,

[7] Thailand Delays Decision on Power Purchase from Pak Beng Dam, press release, International Rivers, March 13, 2018

[4] Independent Expert Review of the Pak Beng Dam EIA, International Rivers, May 2017

Meta information

Contributor:Laura Villadiego, Carro de Combate, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019



Location of the Pak Beng dam, MRC

Location of the Pak Beng dam, MRC

Pak Beng dam project, MRC

Pak Beng dam project, MRC

The Mekong River in Laos, near the site of the Pak Beng Dam, International Rivers

The Mekong River in Laos, near the site of the Pak Beng Dam, International Rivers