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The impacts of hydropower development on livelihoods of downstream communities : case studies in Laos

Sivongxay, Amphone (2015). The impacts of hydropower development on livelihoods of downstream communities : case studies in Laos. PhD Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

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Author Sivongxay, Amphone
Title The impacts of hydropower development on livelihoods of downstream communities : case studies in Laos
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2015-06
Thesis Type PhD
Supervisor Greiner, Romy
Garnett, Stephen
Abstract Laos is currently promoting hydropower generation and sale of electricity to neighbouring countries as a key economic development strategy. While helping the Government of Laos achieve its economic development goals, hydropower comes with costs that accrue at the local level. Hydropower projects can interrupt, alter and inhibit river flows and associated ecological services that have supported rural livelihoods. The effects of hydropower therefore extend to people living downstream of the dams. Using a replicated cross-sectional case study design, this empirical research identifies and explores the perceived direct and indirect effects hydropower projects have on the people living downstream of six hydropower projects in Laos, which are at different developmental stages─planned, recently commissioned and long term operation. The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework has been employed to categorise and quantify these effects in the environmental, financial, physical, human and social domains. A social survey was implemented using face-to-face interviews of 40 households per case study.

Villagers experienced loss of productive land, river ecosystems degradation and decline in river-based fisheries. Some households benefitted from hydropower related employment. However, most jobs were ephemeral and on-going employment was limited, particularly if the project was foreign-owned. Impacts on the natural capital were felt most acutely in villages below recently commissioned dams. Over time, people could adjust and take advantage of any new livelihoods opportunities associated with dams including reservoir-based fisheries and hydropower tourism. When hydropower developers incorporate environmental and social obligations during planning, construction and operation, loss of traditional livelihoods, especially river based fishing, can be reduced while social benefits can be fostered, particularly through livelihood improvement programmes. Human and social capital is improved if developers construct school and health care facilities.

Key policy recommendations include mandating the consideration of downstream communities in social impact assessment, that ex-post impact assessments are conducted in addition to the ex-ante impact assessments, that capacity of downstream communities is increased by improving education and training, that mitigation measures are considered and implemented for every dam, that hydropower projects are mandated to provide environmental flows and a land-for-land option is available for compensation.

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