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MRC forum tackles hydropower dam proposed by Laos

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times Share:
A participant asks a question at the forum yesterday in Laos. KT/Pech Sotheary

Vientiane, Laos – The Mekong River Commission, member countries and relevant partners yesterday discussed procedures for a technical review of Laos’ planned Luang Prabang hydropower project.

About 200 people comprising representatives of member countries Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, civil society, academics, private sector and development partners were in Vientiane for the 8th MRC Regional Stakeholder Forum which began on Tuesday.

The two-day meeting was to discuss and collect input to update the Basin Development Strategy 2021-2030 and the strategic plan for 2021-2025 for sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin.

The forum was aimed at introducing a roadmap for the BDS as well as formulating strategies to ensure sustainable development in the basin.

These included preparing an overall framework focusing on scope, approach, mechanisms, processes, outputs, activities and a timeframe.

Participants also jointly reviewed current and future conditions of the basin, which were identified in the State of Basin Report, as well as prioritised issues of concerns to be managed within the basin.

They also jointly reviewed opportunities to promote sustainable development, strengthen management, increase regional and national benefits as well as shared outcomes of work by MRC and other actors/stakeholders and how these would be integrated into the updated BDS.

During yesterday’s session of the forum, participants touched on Laos’ proposed 1,460 megawatt Luang Prabang dam project.

MRC experts discussed the methodology to be used to review the hydropower project’s impact on the river system, including how it affects sedimentation, water quality, the environment, fisheries, dam safety, navigation and socio-economic activities.

The review was also to ensure that the dam development is transparent, accountable and minimises any impact.

Laos plans to build the Luang Prabang hydropower dam in Houygno village in Luang Prabang province, about 25 kilometres from Luang Prabang town or approximately 2,036 kilometres from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 1,460 MW of electricity. It is designed with seven turbines or generators, each producing 200 MW, and a number of auxiliary units using water from fish attraction flow that are capable of producing another 60 MW. The power plant is intended mainly to export electricity to Thailand and Vietnam.

The project’s construction is expected to begin next year and finish in 2027, the year the commercial operation is also set to begin.

Thy Try, Director of Open Development Cambodia who was at the forum, said that a presentation on the hydropower dam project indicated that it does not benefit the Kingdom and there are concerns that it will affect Cambodians living downstream of the river.

He noted that there is also the threat of danger if problems occur at the dam.

“When we asked about safety, the company picked to build the dam told us it already has a protection mechanism and an emergency plan,” Mr Try said. “However, we do not know if this includes mechanisms to provide timely information to people before the dam opens its gates to release water.”

Mak Bunthoeun, Rivers coalition in Cambodia coordinator of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the presentation on the proposed Luang Prabang hydropower project was too technical and difficult to understand.

He noted that the time given for questions was also too short.

Mr Bunthoeun urged the MRC to provide more time for participants to review the project and said it should share documents related to the development of the project to stakeholders, especially local communities who are affected directly.

“The important thing is to ask the MRC to provide additional time to all stakeholders to review the documents of the hydropower dam project and make suggestions on how to address any negative impacts,” he noted.

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