Violent explosion: 6 Vietnamese Workers Dead on ADB-funded Nam Ngiep 1 Project in Lao PDR
On 28 July 2017, an explosion at the construction site of the ADB–funded Nam Ngiep 1 Dam in Lao PDR claimed the lives of 6 Vietnamese workers and injured 2 more. The Nam Ngiep 1 Power Company (NN1PC) stated that the explosion occurred when workers accidentally dropped a defective and old oxygen cylinder on the concrete surface, causing a sudden explosion.
NN1PC received a $50 million loan from ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) for the project in 2014. The Project involves the construction and operation of a 290 MW hydropower generation facility on a Build-Operate-Transfer arrangement on the Nam Ngiep River in the provinces of Bolikhamxay and Xaysomboun, Lao PDR. The project is a Category A (high risk) for potential impacts on the environment, resettled communities, and indigenous peoples.
Nam Ngiep 1 has been riddled with adverse issues since its inception. “The project has been plagued from the planning stage by issues such as lack of access to information and meaningful consultation with indigenous communities, downplaying of the project's environmental and social impacts and inadequate measures for compensation,” says Joshua Klemm, Policy Director at International Rivers. There have also been allegations of rape of Lao women in the construction site by construction workers of the Nam Ngiep 1.
With this explosion and death of 6 Vietnamese workers at the project site, “We demand that ADB take responsibility and immediate action on those responsible for the gross negligence which resulted in this catastrophe,” according to Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director of NGO Forum on ADB.
The Public Services International (PSI) – Asia Pacific Regional Organization, a global trade union representing workers in the public sector has been demanding the ADB to institutionalize the core labor standards in the implementation of their projects. Core labor standards include the strict compliance to occupational safety and health standards by the contractors and other entities that are doing business with ADB. The explosion in the Nam Ngiep 1 that caused the lives of Vietnamese workers is a clear manifestation of ADB’s inaction to address the issues raised by global trade union movement.
ADB should comply with its safeguards policy to provide workers with safe and health working conditions to prevent such accidents from happening. “ADB is also obligated to conduct supervision missions with detailed review by ADB’s safeguards specialists for this project that clearly has fatal impact and should work with the borrower to rectify any failures complying with the safeguards commitments,” Tom Weerachat, Program Staff of International Accountability Project added.
ADB has been moving towards more private sector-led operations amid growing concerns over the lack of environmental and social due diligence in its investments to the private sector.
The Bank tends to have no direct monitoring mechanism of environmental and social safeguards on their private sector operations, which leaves local communities completely vulnerable to project developers who often have no technical capacity or provision to deal with project impacts. This conclusion is reinforced by ADB’s own Independent Evaluation Department that “PSOD does not appear to have systematically collected safeguard monitoring reports that can alert ADB to any emerging compliance issues.”
Nam Ngiep 1 Power Company’s website, also posted that following the investigation “all works on the site have now resumed back to normal except in the use of gas cylinders for cutting steel until such time as all gas cylinders have been checked and certified for use.”
The Nam Ngiep 1 Power Company is a consortium comprised of Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Company, Thailand’s EGAT International Company and the Lao Holding State Enterprise.
Rappler also reported of the explosion but there was no mention of ADB’s role in financing the said project. The ADB has not acknowledged the incident in their official website and has not issued any statement in public in this regard.
Read NGO Forum on ADB's letter to ADB (September 18) here
Read ADB's acknowledgement (September 22) here
Read ADB's Formal Response (October 18) here