A US Senator called Wednesday on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to withdraw US funding for the Mekong River Commission if a planned dam in Laos goes ahead without meeting international standards.

MRC members Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos have until March to reach consensus on whether or not to build the 1,260-megawatt Xayaboury Dam, after Laos on Sept 22 informed the MRC of its plan to build the first mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong.

Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia and the current chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, wrote in a letter to Ms Clinton, “[T]he US should be prepared to consider withdrawing [donor] contributions if the plans for this dam fail to meet internationally accepted environmental standards for hydropower dams.”

Sen Webb also wrote that Ms Clinton should urge China and the Lower Mekong countries to build only sustainable hydropower projects on the river, saying he was concerned about “devastating consequences” for the region due to dam development.

Ms Clinton will meet with her counterparts from Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos on Saturday in Hanoi for a meeting of the US-funded Lower Mekong Initiative program, according to the US State Department. She is on a 13-day tour of the region and is scheduled to arrive for a three-day visit to Cambodia later the same day.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap welcomed Sen Webb’s interest in the Mekong River, adding however, that he feared halting Chinese dam construction would be impossible.

“If [China] does not listen to the international community and the Lower Mekong countries, it will be difficult for Cambodia,” he said.

Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner for International Rivers, said the Xayaboury Dam proposal did not meet international best practice standards.

“It has failed to gain public acceptance and guarantee the sustainability of the river and people’s livelihoods,” she said.

The World Bank announced Friday it would not fund any Mekong dams and endorsed an MRC report that recommended a 10-year deferral before building a Mekong dam.


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