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Pak Lay dam, Laos


Pak Lay is the latest hydropower project approved by the Lao government as part of its plan to turn the country into a hydroelectric powerhouse in Southeast Asia. 

Thus, Pak Lay is the fourth hydropower project approved of the 11 projects planned for the mainstream of the lower Mekong River. The first three dams are the also highly controversial Don Sahong, Xayaburi, and Pak Beng projects.   

Even though the project has been on the table since 2007, the Lao government officially notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a governing body that manages the transboundary impacts in the Mekong River, of its intention to construct the Pak Lay dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River in June 2018 [1].

Following the announcement, several international organizations have shown their concern due to the environmental and social impacts of the project [2]. First, the dam will further compound the impacts of the existing dams on the Mekong mainstream [3]. A study conducted by the MRC and released in February 2018 stated that the dams “pose a serious threat to the ecological health and economic vitality of the region”. Impacts include a 30-40% decrease in Mekong fisheries by 2040 and a 97% reduction in the sediment load reaching the Mekong Delta, the organizations say.  

Save the Mekong Coalition has also warned that the ‘Transboundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report’ for the Pak Lay dam project has been copied and pasted up to 90% from that of the Pak Beng project, and that the report only changes the site name and location of the project [4].  

The project will also affect more than 22.000 people directly and indirectly, according to the Mekong River Commission [5]. However, officials quoted by Radio Free Asia said that at least 1,000 families from 20-some villages will be forced to relocate [6]. According to International Rivers, the dam will also affect communities in Thailand, since it will be located around 100 kilometres from the border [3].     

In August 2018,  the Mekong River Commission officially started a six-month Prior Consultation process, a mandatory step before building any project in the Mekong mainstream [7]. Several organizations, including Save the Mekong Coalition [8] and Vietnam Rivers Network (VRN) [9], are boycotting the Prior Consultation process for Pak Lay dam to be held by MRC. The organizations claimed that the Prior Consultation procedures for the Xayaburi, Don Sahong and Pak Beng dams raised “serious and outstanding concerns”, making this new procedure lacking any credibility.    

The construction expected to start in 2022 and the commercial operation to begin when the construction finishes in 2029. PowerChina Resources Ltd is named as the developer, according to the official notification documents from Lao PDR [5].  

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. Laos has 46 hydroelectric power plants with 54 more planned or under construction [10].    

However, the Lao government also announced in August 2018 that it would suspend new dam projects in the country and review the existing ones, following the collapse of an auxiliary dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydro project [11]. 

Basic Data

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

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Installed capacity: 770 MW

Annual average energy production: 4,124.80 gigawatt per hour (GWh)

Flow-discharge: 6,101 m3/s

Storage capacity: 890 million cubic metres (m3 )

Source: Mekong River Commission [5]

Level of Investment:2,134,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:22,101
Start of the conflict:01/01/2007
Company names or state enterprises:PowerChina Resources (PCR) from China - Developer
China National Electronics Import-Export Corporation (CEIEC) from China - Developer
Relevant government actors:Lao Government, Mekong River Commission,
International and Finance InstitutionsExport-Import Bank of China from China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Rak Chiang Khan Conservation Group, International Rivers Network, Save the Mekong Coalition, Vietnam Rivers Network

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:NGOs proposed to halt all the hydropower projects and to find alternative renewable solutions, such as solar and wind
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project has not been suspended

Sources & Materials

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

1995 Mekong agreement

2 Laos announces fourth Mekong dam amid fears of ecological disaster, Asia Times, June 15, 2018

3 Press Release | Pak Lay Dam Proceeding – Another Expensive Distraction, International Rivers, June 25, 2018

4 Assessment reports of Pak Lay and Pak Beng dam found to be identical, The Nation, September 21, 2018

5 Fast Facts about the Pak Lay Hydropower Project, Mekong River Commission

6 Pak Lay Dam to Displace Residents in More Than 20 Villages in Northwestern Laos, Radio Free Asia, June 21, 2018

10 Laos Suspends New Dam Projects Following Catastrophe, Voice of America, August 8, 2018

8 Save the Mekong Coalition Boycott of the Pak Lay Dam Prior Consultation Process, August 24, 2018

10 Mekong River body welcomes Laos' decision to suspend new dam projects, Reuters, August 15, 2018

9 Press release, Vietnam Rivers Network

7 Starting date for Pak Lay hydropower project Prior Consultation process agreed, Mekong River Commission, August 10 2018

[1] Lao PDR Submits Notification on the Pak Lay Hydropower Project to MRC for Prior Consultation, Mekon River Commission, June 14, 2018

Meta information

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



River bank in the Pak Lay area

River bank in the Pak Lay area. Many people depend on the agriculture in the river banks. / International Rivers

Area where the Pak Lay dam has been proposed

View of the area where the Pak Lay dam has been proposed. / International Rivers

Cross section of the powerhouse of the Pak Lay dam

Cross section of the powerhouse of the Pak Lay dam. / Mekong River Commission (