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Structural Injustice, Slow Violence? The Political Ecology of a “Best Practice” Hydropower Dam in Lao PDR

Large areas of the rural Lao landscape are being rapidly transformed by infrastructure development projects. Arguably, it is hydraulic development that is contributing most significantly to rural socio-ecological change, due to the profound socio-political ruptures dams precipitate. The nationally iconic Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project, commissioned in 1998 and expanded in 2012, provides an illustrative case of hydropower’s complex social-ecological outcomes. Proponents have argued that the project represents a best-case example of planned, sustainable development, through successful mitigation of negative impacts and benefit-sharing with affected communities, and implemented in accordance with international good practice. This article questions the narratives of sustainability. It is argued that while the project could be considered successful in achieving certain economic objectives defined by the government and investors, evidence of social and environmental sustainability is questionable, raising questions about other dam projects in the country with weaker standards and oversight. Given the extent of negative impacts and associated social trauma in the Nam Hinboun basin, the article considers whether and to what extent such hydraulic development processes under authoritarian rule may be framed as expressions of structural injustice and slow violence.

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Additional Info

Field Value
Document type Reports, journal articles, and research papers (including theses and dissertations)
Language of document
  • English
  • Hydropower dams
  • SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
Geographic area (spatial range)
  • Lao People's Democratic Republic
Copyright Yes
Version / Edition 2018
License unspecified

Keith Barney Resources Environment and Development Group, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, Building 132, Lennox Crossing, Acton, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

Co-author (individual) David J.H. Blake & Keith Barney
ISSN number Print ISSN: 0047-2336 Online ISSN: 1752-7554
Publication place Australia
Publisher Journal of Contemporary Asia
Publication date 2018
Pagination 27
Keywords hydropower,Laos,Mekong,environmental justice,slow violence
Date uploaded July 30, 2018, 02:03 (UTC)
Date modified February 13, 2019, 07:51 (UTC)