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Questions over reliable death toll in the Laos floods – foreign media banned

Tanutam Thawan

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PHOTO: Thai PBS

In a sign of the times where social media is simply instantaneous, but often unreliable, the Lao PM Thongloun Sisoulith is warning members of the public to be aware and conscious about news and reports on the deadly flooding in southern Attapeu province. But some international news agencies are claiming that the Laos government is trying to downplay the death toll in a face-saving PR exercise (more about that later).

The question on verifiable numbers arises after the Laos government banned most foreign media from the disaster zone. International aid organisations are also questioning the official toll figures being released by the Laos government.

Meanwhile the Laos PM is asking people to follow news from Lao mainstream media outlets, which acquire information first-hand from officials authorised to provide the information. The premier issued the warning in a press briefing in Vientiane after returning from the flooding in the province.
The warnings follow misinformation and fake news that were posted online via social media and then reported and rebroadcast by some foreign mainstream media outlets.

Photos of severe disasters which happened elsewhere and some time ago were also posted on social media pages as if they were pictures of Attapeu’s flooding.

Since the flash flood, caused by the fracture of Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower reservoir’s saddle dam D, lashed villages in Sanamxay district on Monday night (July 23), reports carried by social media and most foreign mainstream media have exaggerated the death toll and the number of missing victims.

Questions over reliable death toll in the Laos floods - foreign media banned | News by Thaiger

“So, members of the public should analyse content critically and assess its veracity.”

In the press briefing, the Laos PM expressed heartfelt gratitude to all sectors for extending sincere assistance to the rescue operation and relief effort. On behalf of the Lao government and people, he extended heartfelt thanks to governments and peoples of friendly countries and international organisations for sharing sympathy, expressing the intention to and extending assistance and support for the search, rescue and relief effort.

“They have given physical and spiritual support to the victims to enable them to return to normal lives as soon as possible,” PM Thongloun said.

He called on Lao compatriots within the country and living abroad to extend assistance and support to help address and overcome the disaster.

“I am confident that the incident [disaster] will be overcome. The situation will return to normalcy soon,” he said.

Meanwhile the BBC has questioned the ‘official’ figures issued by the Laos government.

Government statistics say 27 people have been killed and 131 people are missing – but aid agencies believe the country may be downplaying the scale of the disaster and the final death toll may be considerably higher.

Local residents told the BBC that they believed as many as 300 people may have lost their lives.

Meanwhile up to 3,000 people are reportedly still stranded, their rooftops now islands in the murky floodwater.

Few details of the rescue operation are being released by the Laotian authorities – but a BBC team managed to gain brief access to the site and survivors, despite a ban on foreign media.

Read the rest of the BBC report HERE.

Construction of the $1.2bn Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project – a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams – involved Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms.

The dam was 90% complete and had been set to start operating commercially next year. The Laos government is staking a lot of its economic future by providing reliable electricity for the region and has dubbed the ‘battery of Asia. Many of the hydroelectric schemes are privately funded by South Korean companies.

 

 

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