Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

The collapse of Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower project, Lao PDR


The development of hydropower in LAO PDR has been very contentious. [6]. Then, the  US$1.2 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project located on the Xe Kong River in Laos' Bolaven plateau, collapsed. The dam construction began in February 2013 and was expected to be completed in 2019. It is part of the dam construction boom in the country with the aim of generating electricity to be exported to Thailand and become the "the battery of Southeast Asia" [2]. The Mekong and its tributaries would the source of hydropower, which (in money terms) was 23 % of exports in 2017, from 47 hydroprojects that should reach 100 by the year 2020. 

The failed dam planned to export 90 percent of its electricity to  Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.

The project, which is the first build-operate-transfer (BOT) project to be undertaken by the Korean companies in Laos. The project achieved financial closure in February 2014 and is financed through 70% debt and 30% equity. Debt financing of approximately $737.5m is provided by a syndicate of Thai financial institutions including Bank of Ayudhya, The Export- Import Bank of Thailand, Krung Thai Bank, and Thanachart Bank. [1]

On 23rd July 2018 it was reported that there were at least 27 people have been killed and more than 100 are missing in flooding of at least six villages following the collapse of one of the subsidiary dams, known as "Saddle Dam D". More than 6,600 people have been made homeless. As of 30 July,  there are at least 27 dead, over 100 people missing and 16,000 affected. 

Workers found the hydroelectric dam in Attapeu province was partially damaged on Sunday, and villagers living nearby were evacuated.

The collapse of the dam Monday was not the first in Laos. Last year, a dam on the Nam Ao River that was being built as part of a hydropower project burst, although no deaths were reported after that accident [3].

Some residents whose villages were in the way of the hydropower project have resisted moving, saying the compensation they were offered was too small and the land they were offered was unsuitable for farming.

In a 2013 International Rivers sent a letter to the power company reporting what the organization saw firsthand on a field visit. People were struggling “with a lack of access to sufficient food, water and land.”

“In addition, families have found that the shallow soil around their homes is inappropriate for growing vegetables, fruits or staple crops, and consistently attest to going hungry,” the letter said [4]. The EJAtlashas recorded the details of building and opposition to several dams in Lao PDR. 

There has been criticism for many years against the building of many dams in the Mekong River. There was a typical reaction to the collapse of 23 July 2018 from one of the dam building firms, the  Mega First company which is building the 250 MW Don Sahong dam, also in Southern Laos near the Cambodian border. Their press release aserted that "Having reviewed the circumstances surrounding the incident, and the specific and unique characteristics of the Don Sahong Project, the board  is satisfied that present and future dam safety risks remain extremely low". Really? 

The government's figures on deaths are still increasing a few days later. [5]. A high-ranking Lao official suggested that the  dam collapse in Champassak province was the result of faulty construction and said the project’s developer should be held accountable, as the death toll from flooding has reached 30, with more than 20 hospitalized for injuries.

Despite early warnings of a possible breach due to heavy rainfall, many were left behind in their homes when “Saddle Dam D” collapsed, Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told RFA’s Lao Service that the burst was caused by “heavy rainfall” and “construction technique.” [5]. Cambodian villages have also been affected, with 5000 people rellocated. [5]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:The collapse of Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower project, Lao PDR
Country:Lao PDR
State or province:Attapeu province, Champassak province
Location of conflict:Sanamxay district
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

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

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company's (PNPC) 410MW Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydroelectric power project is estimated to have an annual energy generation of approximately 1,860GWh.

The project includes the construction of three dams: Houay Makchan Dam, Xe Pian Dam, and Xe-Namnoy Dam along the Mekong River.

The "Saddle Dam D" was 8m wide, 770m long and 16m high - and was designed to help divert water around a local reservoir

It will consist of a large storage reservoir on the Xe Namnoy River, underground tunnels, shaft waterways, and an open-air powerhouse featuring four generator units (three Francis turbines and one Pelton turbine).

The Xe Namnoy reservoir will be 73m-high and 1,600m-long, and will have a capacity to store approximately 1,043 million cubic meters (MCM) of water. Approximately 1,000MCM of water will be collected from Houay Makchan and Xe Pian catchments and stored at the Xe Namnoy reservoir.

Project area:238 [1]
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,200,000
Affected Population:6,000 families
Start of the conflict:23/07/2018
Company names or state enterprises:Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding (RATCH) from Thailand
ATT Consultants Company Limited (ATT) from Thailand - ATT Consultants were engaged for designing the transmission system model, which will enable the transfer of power to Thailand.
SK E&C from Republic of Korea - SK E&C was awarded the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the construction of the project
Korea Western Power (KOWEPCO) from Republic of Korea - KOWEPCO was awarded the operations and maintenance contract (O&M) for a period of 27 years
AF Consult from Sweden - AF Consult was engaged to conduct pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, engineering for basic design and tender documents, environmental and social management aspects, and to provide support services for finalising the concession and power purchase agreements.
Tractebel Engineering from Belgium - Tractebel Engineering was engaged as owner's engineer for the hydropower plant construction.
Lao Holding State Enterprise (LHSE) from Lao PDR
Seli Overseas from Italy - completion of the project's headrace tunnel
Relevant government actors:Minister of Energy and Mines [5]
International and Finance InstitutionsBank of Ayudhya from Thailand
Export- Import Bank of Thailand from Thailand
Krung Thai Bank from Thailand
Thanachart Bank from Thailand
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Rivers Network

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, 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, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Some weeks after the breakdown, it is not yet clear how many people lost their lives immediately, how many "disappeared", how many survived but lost their homes and livelihood. The costs of the failed project and the potential benefits (in terms of electricty exports) are grossly asymetrical.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] Kenneth Olson, “Water rights and fights: Lao dams on the Mekong River,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. March 2018.


[2] AFP - Hundreds missing in Laos after hydropower dam collapse. 24th July 2018

[3] NYT - Laos Dam Collapse Leaves Hundreds Missing and Homes Washed Away July 24, 2018

[4] International Rivers letter to power company. 2013

[5]Lao Dam Collapse Caused by Heavy Rains, Faulty Construction: Minister. 2018-07-26 On the night of July 23, water poured over a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project in Champassak, sweeping away homes and causing severe flooding in up to 12 villages downstream in Champassak and neighboring Attapeu province.

BBC - Laos dam collapse: Many feared dead as floods hit villages

International Rivers - Xe Pian–Xe Namnoy Affected People Want Consultation Before Construction

Thu, 01/24/2013

By: Tania Lee

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3630