Vientiane, Laos – Environmental activists are urging Laos and the Mekong River Commission to halt the Pak Lay Hydropower project until all stakeholders can rigorously assess the project’s environmental and social impacts.
The collapse of Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Hydropower Dam in July resulted in extensive deaths and the displacement of thousands of people in Laos and Cambodia, prompting environmental activists to urge new studies on the Pak Lay project during the 5th Regional Stakeholder Forum which began on Thursday.
About 160 participants from NGOs, governments, schools, the private sector and development partners in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand gathered in Vientiane for the forum.
An Pich Hatda, MRC Secretariat officer in charge of the planning division, said discussion, review and debate on the construction of the proposed Pak Lay Hydropower project took place at the forum.
“The MRC believes that inclusion and consideration of diverse views […] strengthen water cooperation in the basin,” Mr Pich Hatda said. “We cannot hear your voices unless you raise it.”
Thai Bunleang, a Forest Community in Cambodia representative, said that though the group does not oppose the construction of the project, a thorough study of the project’s environmental and social impacts must be conducted in order to avoid a potential loss of resources in the Mekong river.
“We are concerned with issues such as the collapse of Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Hydropower Dam that left many hundreds dead and many more missing,” Mr Bunleang said. “If we do not study it properly, it could affect the lives of not only Cambodians, but also the Lao people.”
During the forum, participants also suggested that additional rules and regulations should be applied to other dams, including the Pak Lay Dam. They proposed that the MRC Secretariat and other national agencies collect data to improve fish passage designs.
Save the Mekong, a coalition of NGOs, on Thursday called for a new trans-boundary environmental and social impact assessment and a cumulative impact assessment, citing the poor quality of current studies conducted.
The group said the Pak Lay Dam studies are copies from a Pak Beng Dam report in 2015.
“At least 90 percent of the Social Baseline Conditions section of the Pak Lay Dam is a direct copy of the Pak Ben Dam assessment, including photos, tablets and texts,” the group said.
Mr Pich Hatda responded by saying that the MRC will review both studies.
“Our team will document our findings and we will highlight whether such shortcomings affect the assessment of the [Pak Lay] project,” he said.
Bounkham Vorachit, Lao Natural Resources and Environment Vice Minister, said that the Lao government has always placed utmost importance following international regulations, especially the 1995 Mekong Agreement and other MRC guidelines and procedures.
“Addressing the challenges of sustainable development would not be possible were it not for the support of our stakeholders,” Mr Vorachit said.
An unnamed representative of Powerchina Resources Ltd, the company in charge of developing Pak Lay Dam, said the company concluded that assessments done were in accordance with technical standards.
The MRC said that the Pak Lay Hydropower Project is located in Xayaburi province in Laos and is the fourth out of 11 hydropower projects planned for the mainstream of the lower Mekong river.
It’s been estimated that Powerchina Resources Ltd and China National Electronics Import-Export Corporation have invested about $2.1 billion in the project to build, operate and eventually transfer the dam to the Lao government.