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Globally, hydroelectric dams are increasingly considered to be a sustainable source of renewable energy. Many countries have invested in hydroelectric projects to boost the local and national economies. The findings of recent hydroelectric projects are mixed. Even though the construction of these dams has provided immediate benefits to surrounding communities, long-term negative implications of hydroelectric development have called into question the true sustainability of hydroelectric projects. These negative impacts of hydroelectric dams include the resettlement of marginalized communities, in addition to significant alterations to the local environment and economy. Taking both the positive and negative impacts of hydroelectric development into consideration, this paper examines how such hydroelectric dam development projects have led to the extreme marginalization of already vulnerable ethnic groups in Laos. Particularly, it focuses on the effects of hydroelectric dams on one of the largest ethnic groups in northern Laos, the Khmou. The findings suggest that the construction of hydroelectric dams act as a double-edged sword for the local environment, people, and economy. This study is an attempt to synthesize the existing knowledge to shed light on the negative implications that hydroelectric developments have had on ethnic minorities, particularly Khmou in northern Laos. Even though this paper has a geographical focus on northern Laos, the findings are relevant for understanding the impacts of hydroelectric dams on various historically marginalized populations in other parts of the Global South.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. © 2023, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International license. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Environmental Development,

Available for download on Sunday, June 01, 2025