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MRC urged to delay Lao dam project scrutiny to allow for more input

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times Share:
The Luang Prabang hydropower dam project. MRC

Five civil society organisations in Cambodia yesterday asked the Mekong River Commission’s Joint Committee to delay the prior consultation process of Laos’ proposed Luang Prabang project to give more time for its developer to conduct more rigorous studies to ensure the river’s sustainability.

The organisations working on water governance in Cambodia include the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Culture and Environment Preservation Association, My Village, Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), and 3s Rivers Protection Network.

In a joint press statement, they stated that there are insufficient details about the project’s Transboundary Impact Assessment and a lack of concrete measures to mitigate impacts on lower Mekong countries which are significant issues that need to be addressed during the consultation process of the proposed Luang Prabang hydropower project.

“There are insufficient details of the assessment that have been observed with regard to fish migration, hydrology and sediment flow and the impact to Tonle Sap Lake,” the statement said.“The study did not assess the reverse flow of Tonle Sap, which is a natural flow of the great lake that facilitates fish migration to spawning and feeding grounds. The change of natural water flow regime would impact Tonle Sap, fish reproduction as well as food security of Cambodians.”

These organisations also asked the MRC to scrutinise the contents and substance of the project documents before organising prior consultation with relevant stakeholders.

According to a press statement on Thursday, the MRC’s Joint Committee is scheduled to meet to discuss the finalisation of the prior consultation process of the dam project as to whether to make a decision to close the process or suggest further study. The decision to close the process will lead to the construction of Luang Prabang project.

An Pich Hatda, chief executive officer of the MRC secretariat, said yesterday that the decision to delay or further proceed the on-going prior consultation process of the Luang Prabang project rests with the MRC Joint Committee – the governing body of the organisation.

“A decision to delay or to even stop the project is a sovereign decision, while the MRC is mandated to consult its members and stakeholders on the project once submitted,” he said.

Mr Hatda said that during the review stage and later during the prior consultation stage of the Luang Prabang project, MRC specialists and international experts reviewed the project documents to determine the project’s alignment with the MRC’s Design Guidance on Mainstream Dams and to recommend measures for minimising and mitigating potential negative transboundary impacts.

“In our technical review, we have noted issues regarding the design and potential adverse impacts on downstream countries, fish passage, sediment transport, navigation lock design, and aquatic habitats. We have also recommended the sort of actions and mitigation measures the developer should consider doing, as the project takes off,” he added.

In July last year, the Lao government informed the MRC that the Luang Prabang project’s construction is expected to begin this year and be completed in 2027. The Lao government is aiming for the dam to produce 1,460 megawatts of electricity for export to Thailand and Vietnam.

Saynakhone Inthavong, Laos Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said in February that his government is highly appreciative of the valuable comments from all stakeholders under the prior consultation process and will continue to address legitimate concerns.

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