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  • Heavy rains preceded the Laos dam collapse. Was climate change a factor?

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Heavy rains preceded the Laos dam collapse. Was climate change a factor?

Source(s):  Mongabay


The companies building the dam say it is too early to say why the accident happened, and have emphasized the monsoon rains that inundated the structure in the days leading up to its collapse. But Ian Baird, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has studied the hydropower project, wasn’t convinced. “When at the end of July do we not get rain in this part of the world?” he asked. The companies are “trying to play this out as a natural disaster that wasn’t their fault.”


When it comes to Laos itself, though, the question of changing rainfall patterns is a little less clear. This is due to gaps in the data from observation stations in the country, according to Colin Kelley, senior research fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security. “The problem with Laos is that we don’t have great observation tape, or [there is a] gap in the observation records for some of the observation stations that we have, or maybe we have a record that goes back only 20 or 30 years,” he said.


Climate models already indicated that “heavy rainfall events will increase in intensity over the century as a result of increasing greenhouse gases, both in the Mekong region and in many other parts of the world,” said Michael Previdi, an assistant research professor at Columbia University, who studies climate change and the hydrologic cycle. In general, though, “any individual severe weather event cannot be attributed to climate change,” he said. “The more appropriate question to ask is: did climate change increase the likelihood that such an event would occur? It’s often said that climate change in essence ‘loads the dice’ and makes certain types of severe weather events — such as heavy rainfall events — more likely.”

Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia program director at International Rivers, said she believed the Laos dam collapse was a “human-made disaster and not a natural disaster, and that the developers of the project are responsible for the damage and loss.” However, she added, “There is a major concern that dams are not being designed — and potentially cannot be designed — in a way that adequately addresses future climate patterns.


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  • Publication date 07 Aug 2018

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