MANILA, Philippines – The proposed Laiban Dam is not only a large dam, it is a monster.

This was according to debt watchdog Freedom from Debt Coalition as it reminded the government of the negative impacts of large dams on people and environment worldwide, amid the swelling opposition to the proposed construction of the US$1-billion Laiban Dam in Tanay, Rizal.

Dianne Roa, FDC advocacy coordinator, said that the proposed Laiban Dam project qualifies as a large dam  under the definition of the International Convention on Large Dams (ICOLD). As such, the decision-making process employed in considering the implementation of the proposed Laiban Dam project should clearly adhere to the guidelines provided by the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“ICOLD classifies as large dams those that stand beyond 15 meters in height. The proposed project will soar 113 meters high. The government will not only build a large dam, it will create a monster,” said Roa.

Citing WCD’s survey of 125 large dams, Roa said that the construction of large dams have been found to have often led to the following: loss of forests and wildlife habitat; loss of species populations; degradation of upstream catchment areas due to the flooding of the reservoir area; loss of aquatic biodiversity; physical displacement of 40-80 million people worldwide; loss of livelihoods for people displaced and communities affected; and, adverse health and livelihood outcomes for those living near or resettled from the reservoir area.

The Kaliwa Watershed where the Laiban Dam is posed to be undertaken, is also a natural habitat of 121 species, 35 percent of which are endemic to the Philippines. Among the species that will be dislocated by the construction of the Laiban Dam, five are considered to be globally vulnerable: The Philippine Eagle, the Rufuos Hornbill, the Tarictic Hornbill, the Philippine Brown Deer and the Luzon bearded wild pig. The project area itself contains a protected mossy forest area of 103 hectares and a virgin forest area spanning 2,479 hectares.

“With the construction of the Laiban dam, these rich habitats will be lost underwater,” stressed Roa.

FDC’s Roa added that apart from the confirmed risks associated with large dam projects, risks of flooding and increased seismic activity have also been associated with large dams and reservoirs. Worse, these risks could claim the lives of communities dwelling around the project area.

She said that based on previous studies conducted on the Laiban Dam Project, an estimated number of almost 5,000 families, largely from the indigenous people of the Dumagats and Remontados, will also be dislocated. These indigenous groups have already expressed their opposition to the project.  

In a position paper, FDC stressed: “Flood disasters caused by dam breaks have already claimed the lives and homes of many communities around the globe. While dam proponents may assert that they can design the Laiban Dam to withstand pressure from the water volume to be contained within the reservoir, their confidence carries little weight. Similar MWSS projects in the past have often been found wanting in their design. A recently completed one, the Umiray-Angat Transbasin Project, boasted of intake works that were said to be designed to withstand flood pressure for as long as 1,000 years. By November 2004, however, the said infrastructure was already heavily damaged and was shut down for two months. The stability of the proposed dam structure becomes more uncertain when we consider the presence of earthquake faults in the project area, five of which were identified to be active in previous studies.”

“In considering the Laiban Dam Project, therefore, it would be imperative on the MWSS to undertake a painstaking and comprehensive assessment of the costs, gains, and alternatives to the project and implement such a project only as a desperate option,” Roa said.

Quoting WCD’s general rule, Roa said: “Where other options offer better solutions, they should be favored over large dams. The Laiban Dam project is not a solution, it is a nightmare. ”

FDC recently urged the government to abandon the project, saying that the proposed dam is disadvantageous to the consumers as well as the state. Rate hikes amounting to P18 to P20 per cubic meter await the water consumers once the project is finished.

The group also assailed the reported “take or pay” provision contained in the joint venture between the MWSS and San Miguel Bulk Water Co. Inc. Such a provision provides for the payment of a specified volume of water supply each day, and burdens the buyer (MWSS) with the associated risks related to the inaccuracy of any supply-and-demand projections.

Apart from these, huge cost overruns, which are typical of a large dam project such as the Laiban Dam, will further jack up the project cost. Estimated at US$1 billion, the Laiban Dam is the most expensive water supply project of the MWSS to date. -30-

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