*Dam a natural blessing in Laos* Vientiane Times, 20 August 2012 Laos is one of least developed nations in the world and the country is trying its best to free itself from poverty, hoping to achieve the mission by 2020. Despite achieving strong economic growth of at least 7.5 percent over the past five years thanks to the booming mining sector, questions still remain as to what the country will do after the mineral resources are exhausted. Can Laos produce rice for export? The answer is that it will not be able to compete with Thailand and Vietnam. Can Laos produce cars, computers and TV for export? The answer is that it is impossible in the near future since the country lacks a sufficiently skilled labour force to meet industrial demands. So what is the best option for Laos to build a sustainable economic base? Hydropower power plants are perhaps a central plank, which can help Laos reduce poverty and build the strong and sustainable economic base, thanks to plenty of rivers, forests, tropical rainfall and high mountain terrain suitable for dam development. According to a study by the Ministry of Energy, the country has potential to build more than 70 hydropower plants with a combined installed electricity power generation capacity of about 28,000 MW. Today, Laos has built only 14 hydropower plants with an installed capacity of 2,500 MW. Five power plants with a combined power generation capacity of 2,500 MW are now under construction and four are expected to be completed sometime this year. 20 power plants are currently in the planning stage and feasibility studies are currently underway on another 20. The Lao government sees hydropower as central to its development potential and plans to become the battery of Asean, supplying clean and renewable energy and promoting sustainable development in the region. Today, the Asean and world communities are now campaigning to lower greenhouse gas emissions and hydropower is one of the industries, which can help the world to fulfil their dreams. The construction of hydropower plants is not a new thing around the world. The fact, there are several thousand hydropower plants built around the world. In some countries, they build a number of hydropower plants on the same river. There are more than 10 dams on the Rhone River in Europe, for example. In Thailand, there are more than 15 dams currently. China has built many dams, including the gigantic Three Gorges dam. Vietnam has at least two dams and another one now under construction. Currently, Cambodia has no dams but it plans to build at least seven dams in the country. There are several thousand dams in America alone. With many dams in existence already, it presents a good opportunity for Laos to learn from other countries on how to build the best dams possible. Today, there are modern technologies which can be employed to produce better dams which have fewer impacts on people and the environment. Laos has completed the construction of the Nam Theun 2, which World Bank considers as one of the best models for other developers to follow. Besides employing modern dam technologies to reduce negative impacts on the environment, the Nam Theun 2 projects also sets an example on how to generate income for poverty reduction efforts in local communities. The Lao government made a strong commitment to use revenue from Nam Theun 2 for education and health care improvements. The 2011/2012 fiscal year is the first year which the government has secured 17 percent of its investment budget for education and 9 percent for health, thanks to increasing revenue from the hydropower sector. The Lao government plans to build its first Mekong dam in Xayaboury, which will be a run-of-the-river dam. The fact is that this is not the first dam on the Mekong as China has already built many dams on the upper stretches of the river. To address the concerns of neighbouring nations, Laos has redesigned the dam and plans to build the most modern and transparent dam ever built. The redesigned dam will be able to ensure the release of all sediments downstream and allow 85 percent of fish species to pass the dam. It will also build channels for boat navigation and establish feed breeding centres up and downstream of the dam. The redesign of the project will cost the project developers of more than US $100 million in additional funding, with the aim of addressing the concerns of the downstream Mekong nations. The Lao government hopes that Xayaboury dam will be the best dam on the Mekong River. The construction of the dam will help it to generate revenue so as it can reduce poverty in the country and become an industrial nation over the next 10 years.