Regional Electricity Planning and Transboundary Rural-Urban Divide
Dr. Carl Middleton
, Lecturer, Master of Arts in International Development Studies(MAIDS), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
“International Seminar on Rural-Urban Tensions, Violence, & Conflict Transformation:Thailand in Global Comparative Perspective”26-27 August 2010, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
In the Mekong Region, demand for electricity is growing rapidly, especially in Thailandand Vietnam, driven by rapid industrialization, export-led industrial expansion, andexpanding domestic consumer markets. Whilst the extent of this growth and the best wayto meet it is increasingly contested between civil society and government agencies,exploitation of the region’s hydropower resources remains high on each Mekonggovernments’ agenda, including through developing a regional market for electricitytrade (Middleton
, 2009).Over the past five decades, numerous large hydropower projects in the Mekong Region,such as the World Bank-financed Pak Mun Dam in Thailand and the Asian DevelopmentBank (ADB) backed Theun Hinboun Dam in Laos, have often left affected localcommunities worse off to this day (Amornsakchai
, 2000; FIVAS, 2007). Mostrecently, the ADB and World Bank were instrumental in pushing through the Nam Thuen2 project in Lao, approved in 2005, after a fiercely contested decade-long projectpreparation process that questioned the project’s consistency with the banks’ safeguardstandards (Lawrence, 2009).Whilst Western governments, corporations and consultancies, backed by the ADB andthe World Bank, have been influential in promoting and financing major hydropowerschemes in the Mekong region in the past, in particular in Laos and Thailand, over thepast ten years a new generation of hydropower developers has emerged as the keyadvocates of hydropower development. These new developers, mainly from Thailand,Vietnam, China, and Malaysia, have picked up many projects that were abandoned byWestern corporations during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In a complex interplay of political support, development aid, and entrepreneurial spirit, these new proponents haveled the revived push for widespread hydropower exploitation, often backed by exportcredit agencies and commercial financiers from their own countries. Yet, to date, thesedevelopers and their financiers have demonstrated little commitment to InternationalStandards or meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Author’s email: Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com