Residents at Ban Natham, PakNguem District, Vientiane Province, are being gravely affected by toxic water leaking from a cassava factory, as the waaste water is not only killing a large amount of fish but also destroying the villagers' livelihood because they are prohibited from fishing and selling fish caught in the contaminated water.
Mr. Sengmaly Sengvathana, President of Laos-Indochina Lt. and owner of the cassava flour processing plant in Pak Nguem District, admitted that waste water from the plant have flowed into Nonghan, killing a large amount of fish in the 210-hectare lake. However, the company has addressed the problem, primarily by pumping out the contaminated water and buying fish that villagers caught from the lake to dispose of them.
Mr. Sengmaly further explained that, because of heavy rainfalls during the past two weeks, some of the plant's waste water treatment reservoirs overflowed, causing contaminated water to drift into the lake.
The plant was required to build a total of 11 waste water treatment reservoirs , of 50 meters in width, 250 meters in length, and 8 meters in depth, on over 20 hectares of land. But so far only four have been built and in use. Consequently, officials from the Natural Water and Environment Department of Vientiane Prefecture, expressed concern that there may be many more recurrences of this incident because of possible heavy rainfalls in the future.
The contamination of Nonghan Lake has resulted in a loss of income for the Natham villagers, who support their families by catching fish from the lake and taking their catches to sell in markets in Vientiane, earning roughly 100,000 kips or about US$120 daily. The villagers are now without a livehood as Lao authorities have issued an order prohibiting fishing in the lake to avoid harmful effects on the people and their health. There are 340 families in Natham village, and 70% of them rely on selling fishing from Nanghan at the markets in Vientiane city; and each of them needs an income of at least 50,000 Kip to cover the family's daily expenses. Thus, being prevented from fishing means that the majority of Natham villagers are deprived of income sources to meet their family's daily needs.
Songrit Pongern reported in Lao on June 10, 2009. For more details in Lao, listen to his report or read our Lao version. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam)