Experts: Lao Dams Require Greater Study

There is a dearth of information about the possible impact on Cambodia from dams either proposed, under construction or built on the Sekong River in Laos, government and NGO officials said Friday.

NGO workers, researchers and government officials met to discuss six dams, either proposed, constructed or finished, on the Sekong, the Mekong’s largest tributary whih provides one fifth of its annual flow.

“It has not been identified what the impact will be to Cambodia. We are not aware,” said Chheang Hong, a program officer with the Cambodia National Mekong Committee.

The interministerial committee will ask the Lao government and hydropower producers to provide more information such as feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments, Chheang Hong said.

Hydropower has a lot of potential in Cambodia but there is currently not enough investment to realize it fully, he said, adding that information on the dams in Laos would be helpful to expanding Cambodia’s own hydropower sector.

Analysts have warned that proposed dams on the Mekong River, which would offer badly needed electricity to the region, also threaten fisheries and other natural resources.

Ian Baird, Lao country director for the Global Association for People and the Environment, said not enough research is being done on damming of the Sekong River.

“The really big issue is a lack of information,” he said. Quality information is also an issue, he said. EIAs are paid for by hydropower dam producers and researchers face pressure to give good assessments, he said.

“There needs to be some consultation between these countries,” he said. “The impact of these dams are long term over many, many, many years.”

Chhith Sam Ath, development issues project coordinator for NGO Forum, said that a transparent dialogue on the dams is necessary and that funds need to be available to ensure the protection of natural resources.

“We need to use [resources] sustainably,” he said. “We need to preserve our natural resources for the next generation.”

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