Dam Safety for Disaster Resilience

Hydropower plays a significant role in Lao PDR’s economic development. However, existing policies, procedures and capacities to manage dams safely, protect the environment and downstream communities are inadequate. Helvetas thus supports Laos in further developing the necessary technical expertise and institutional capacity to reduce and manage those risks.

  • Project Name
    DSTIA: Dam Safety Technical and Institutional Assistance
  • Project Phase
    2022 to 2026
  • Funding
    Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperaiton (SDC)
  • Thematic focus
    Climate & Disaster Resilience

Potential of Hydropower for Economic Development

Laos is well-placed for hydropower. Its positioning within the Mekong River, high precipitation levels, and mountainous topography providing high levels of runoff offer great potential, which Laos has been seeking to capitalize on. The country’s central location allows it to supply electricity to sizable neighboring markets such as Thailand and Vietnam; and to a lesser extent, also to Cambodia and Myanmar. It thus comes as no surprise that the Government of Laos has identified hydropower development as a key priority. Starting with only 3 dams in 1971, 78 dams were completed by 2019 and 22 more are planned until 2030 reaching a total of 100 dams.


From Disaster Response to Disaster Risk Management

However, the disaster of a dam failure in 2018 resulting in deaths, missing persons, displacement and damaged or destroyed livelihoods has triggered a critical discussion on dam safety in Lao PDR and has served as a wake-up call that investing in dam safety for the sake of reducing disaster risks is vital. To prevent future disasters, the Lao government thus approached the Swiss Government due to its long-standing expertise and experience in hydropower safety.

The result is the Dam Safety and Institutional Assistance in Lao PDR (DSTIA) project, which is implemented by Helvetas in partnership with the Ministry of Energy and Mines. It provides support in alignment with the new Law on Dam Safety approved in 2022 to achieve Lao PDR's aspiration towards sustainable and safe hydropower production, as outlined in the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan 2021-2025 and the Ministry of Energy and Mines' 5-year plan (2021-2025).


Nam Hinbun Hydro power project ©DESM. MEM.
MOU Signing Ceremony on 1st August 2023 © Helvetas

Centering communities and their livelihoods

By improving dam safety, the project seeks to primarily benefit those living in downstream or catchment areas. Dams have adverse environmental effects on the Mekong as they affect fish migrations, river hydrology, and sediment transfers. These considerations are even more important as the Mekong River is crucially important for the biodiversity of the region and many communities depend on the river and its resources for their food and livelihood.

To ensure these environmental and safety considerations are adequately considered, strengthening the necessary technical know-how among the relevant authorities, a legal and institutional set-up to allow for a better enforcement of dam safety are critical.

The DSTIA Project focuses on:

  • Enhancing the technical capacities of the Ministry of Energy and Mines to effectively serve as a dam safety supervisory authority, mitigating disaster risks stemming from deficiencies in design, construction, maintenance, surveillance, and implementation of environmental and social safeguards.
  • Strengthening the legal framework to align with international standards and providing support to the newly established Department of Industry Energy Safety Management.
  • Institutionalizing dam safety trainings to create a skilled and qualified pool of dam safety specialists among dam owners and operators, government institutions, and universities.


LDMS introductory training to DESM © Helvetas
Coaching session for DESM on dialog on dam safety inspection report of the dam owners © Helvetas
EDL-GEN visited WEZ’ dam in Switzerland to exchange the dam safety surveillance © Helvetas
EDL-GEN and WEZ’ exchange information on best practice on dam surveillance © Helvetas