Green Light for Mekong ‘Time Bomb’ Sparks Alarm

James Reddick / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
The Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Plant in Laos is one of several dams either built, under construction or planned for the Mekong River in Laos. Photo: Asian Development Bank

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Environmental groups have expressed alarm at the Laotian National Assembly’s approval last week of the concession for the Don Sahong Dam project, which has been described as an “ecological time bomb” about to be dropped on the Mekong River.

The Laotian government and the project’s developer, Malaysia’s MegaFirst Corporation Berhad, must postpone construction until further impact assessments are conducted, the World Wildlife Fund’s Cambodia office said in a statement.

“The dam will have negative impacts on the entire Mekong River ecosystem all the way to the Delta in Vietnam,” the WWF wrote. “The dam is moving forward despite the opposition of neighboring countries, some of the world’s leading scientists, local communities and hundreds of thousands of people who signed a petition opposing it.”

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Located just two kilometers from the Cambodian border, experts say the 260-megawatt plant would disrupt fishing for the communities who live downriver and could wipe out the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that bring tourists to the area.

In response to the parliament’s approval of the concession, International Rivers’ Southeast Asia program director Ame Trandem encouraged the Lao government to respect regional agreements and to consult with their neighbors before going ahead with the project.

“The Don Sahong Dam is not a done deal,” she wrote in a statement. “Until the project developer can prove that [the dam] will not harm the Mekong River’s rich fisheries and the unique ecosystem services it provides to millions of people in the basin, it is in the best interest of Laos and the region to give the Mekong River a much needed reprieve.”

Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, a treaty signed by Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, a “good faith” effort must be made to reach a consensus before a project goes forward, and the Laotian government must conduct an assessment of the potential impact on its neighbors.  

After conducting “prior consultations” earlier this year through the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission, the four countries failed to reach consensus. Cambodia and Vietnam have remained opposed to the project and claim that the Lao government has failed to provide enough information about the potential environmental effects. Unable to break the impasse, the commission recommended in June that any disputes be resolved at the ministerial level.

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A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told Khmer Times yesterday that he did not know the details of negotiations.  

Despite the objections of its neighbors, the project has been moving forward rapidly. In late June, local media reported that construction had already begun at the site, after heavy machinery was ferried down the Mekong.  

International Rivers’ Thailand coordinator Pianporn Deetes said that the concession approval, as well as a forthcoming power purchase agreement, are premature.

“In our view, it is very necessary that the related agreements be withheld until a proper impact assessment is conducted,” she said.

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