Member countries of the Mekong River Commission have sent a request to the Lao government to carry out thorough impact studies prior to the construction of the Pak Lay hydropower dam in order to minimise risks in the future.
Last year, the Lao government suspended the approval of new dams after the collapse of the Se-Pian Se Nam Noi hydropower dam caused dozens of deaths and left scores missing.
Watt Botkosal, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, yesterday said during an MRC forum in Luang Probang, Laos, that the proposed dam is about 1,000 kilometres away from Cambodia and that the Lao government needs to conduct thorough assessments with MRC member countries before breaking ground.
“When there’s a dam being constructed there will be a cut off of fish migration, which is important for agriculture and biodiversity,” Mr Botkosal said. “Changes to the nature of the river affect social economy and livelihoods of people living along the river.”
“A dam sometimes poses a risk when it collapses because it would bring raging water downstream,” he added.
He noted that before proceeding, the Lao government and its development partners must avoid all potential disasters, such as the collapse of the dam last year.
“We have to work together and have technical and scientific mechanisms to jointly check and monitor the flow of water, the quality of water and the potential loss of fish,” Mr Botkosal said. “The construction of a dam has to be based on the principle of coordination for common interest and the reduction of vulnerabilities caused by the losses.”
Satit Phiromchai, a representative of the Thai National Mekong Committee Secretariat, yesterday said the Thai government is also concerned about the impacts of the dam on fish, agriculture and Thailand’s economy.
“We suggest more clarity on the standards of the design and we request for a simulation of what would happen if the dam collapses,” Mr Satit said. “We would like our concerns to be addressed and information to be shared for the cascade dams so that we may be prepared for an emergency situation.”
Phakkavanh Phissamay, deputy director-general of Laos’ Environment Ministry’s natural resources department, yesterday said her government has carried out ten years of studies with a design firm and international consultants to lay a solid foundation for the Pay Lay hydropower project.
Ms Phakkavanh said the Lao government has also complied with national and international guidelines prior to consultation with the MRC.
“This shows that the government of Lao PDR attaches great importance in development projects and is committed to sustainable development and the well-being of people,” she said. “The Lao government is open to constructive discussions and welcomes recommendations and suggestions on these matters.”
“At the same time, we kindly ask stakeholders to understand and respect our views and roles, as well as the mandate of the MRC,” Ms Phakkavanh added.
MRC CEO An Pich Hatda yesterday said the consultation process helps facilitate discussions between member countries and non-governmental institutions involved.
“These concerns and suggestions will be recorded formally and treated highly in our technical review report to be submitted to the member countries,” he said. “No country has the right to veto another country’s use of water. On the other hand, no country has a unilateral right to move ahead without taking into account the rights and concerns of other countries.”
According to the MRC, Pak Lay is the fourth out of eleven planned hydropower projects in the lower Mekong river.