Accepted paper:

When a dam failed: political ecology of Xepian-Xenamnoy dam bust in Laos


Soyeun Kim (Sogang University)

Paper short abstract:

Using the case of Laos' Xepian-Xenamnoy dam bust, the paper explores 1) the role of the Korean government's 'new' development finance initiatives in facilitating the dam; 2) how 'responsibility' and 'risks' of the dam 'failure' were expressed by the Korean business and aid agency in public arenas.

Paper long abstract:

'New' drivers and finance tools have been more observable in development cooperation for dams than others. In such 'new' development cooperation landscape for dam, the catalytic role of private sector tools has been greatly stressed as more effective development finance instruments. While rigorous debates and concrete measures (financial packages and procedures) to de-risk investment to protect the lenders and companies in international fora, there lacks the equivalent mechanism and discussion on who takes 'responsibility' and how in time of dam 'failure'. Using the case of Laos' Xepian-Xenamnoy dam bust in July 2018 that was under construction - killing at least 42 people and displacing over 6000 people across Laos and Cambodia-, I explore two things by focusing on Korea's involvement. The reason for Korea focus is 1) the project was first developed by the Korean business in 1994, 2) Korea's public finance - USD 72.4 million ODA loan to the Lao state corporation LHSE - made the project possible. First, I analyse how the Korean government's 'new' development finance and public-private partnership initiatives facilitated the project. Second, the paper explores how the Korean contractors, investors, and aid agency involved have initially reacted/responded to the dam failure - in particular through the analysis of the way in which their take on the 'responsibility' and 'risks' of the dam collapse was expressed in press release, media reports, and several documents disclosed during the parliamentary inspection of the government offices.

panel I3
Dams, development & decision-making