Dam Safety Technical and Institutional Assistance (DSTIA) Project Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony

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Press releases, 02.08.2023

In response to a request from the Government of Lao PDR, the Swiss Government is providing crucial support to enhance the country's hydropower dam safety in alignment with the new Law on Dam Safety approved in 2022. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the implementation of the Dam Safety Technical and Institutional Assistance (DSTIA) project.

Jean-Gabriel Duss, SDC Regional Director of Cooperation Mekong Region(middle left, standing) attends MOU ceremony.
Switzerland supports the project with USD 5.2 million. ©touravanh@gmail.com

Mr. Bouathep Malaykham, Director General of the Department of Energy Industry and Safety Management at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and Mr. Jesper Lauridsen, Helvetas Laos Country Director, signed the MoU. The signing was attended by key representatives from various ministries, including Ministry of Energy and Mines, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the National University of Laos, Électricité du Laos, EDL-Generation Public Company, Lao Association on Dams as well as The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Helvetas.  This momentous event follows the previous signing of a Bilateral Agreement between the two governments on 20th January 2023. The MoU for the DSTIA project was developed within the framework of a broader agreement between the Lao Government (Ministry of Planning and Investment) and the Government of Switzerland (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation).

The 2018 incident of the Xepian-Xenamnoy Hydropower Program saddle dam failure triggered a crucial discussion on the significance of dam safety in Lao PDR. The 2019-2020 Nationwide Emergency Dam Safety Inspection (NEDSI), with support from various development partners, including Switzerland, along with a review of institutional and legal frameworks conducted by a Swiss Advisor, confirmed the need to strengthen the safety of hydropower infrastructure, institutional capacity, legal frameworks, and human resources related to dam safety. The objective is to protect people, property, and the environment.

Recognizing the critical role of hydropower in the country's economic development and Switzerland's unparalleled expertise and experience in this field, the Government of Laos sought support from the Government of Switzerland to enhance its dam safety sector. As a result, the DSTIA Project is a response to the Government of Lao PDR's request to bolster its capacity in safeguarding its people, property, and the environment in relation to the operation of dams and reservoirs. The project will support 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).

At its core, the DSTIA Project will focus on three key levels:

  1. 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.
  2. Strengthening the legal framework to align with international standards and providing support to the newly established Department of Industry Energy Safety Management (DSEM).
  3. Institutionalizing dam safety trainings to create a skilled and qualified pool of dam safety specialists among dam owners and operators, government institutions, and universities. 

Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest density of dams. In fact, Switzerland has more dams than any other country.

"Since 1872 and the construction of Europe's first concrete dam, Switzerland has built up a body of knowledge. One of Switzerland’s selling points is its safety expertise. Today’s signing of this Memorandum of Understanding marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to strengthen national regulatory and institutional framework for dam safety regulatory in Laos. Thousands of people will benefit from better protection", said Jean-Gabriel Duss, SDC. 

The DSTIA Project will be co-implemented by the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Helvetas, a Swiss Development Organization with a longstanding engagement in Laos since 2001. The project will build upon partnerships with the National University of Laos (Faculty of Engineering), the Lao Association of Dams, and Electricité du Laos-Generation.

The signing of this agreement marks the beginning of Switzerland's longer-term commitment to support dam safety in Lao PDR. The initial phase of support, with a budget of USD 5.2 million, will extend until March 2026. A second phase of a similar scale is foreseen, following its successful completion of the first phase.