Groups, Fishermen Voice Concern over Laos Dam

Environmental groups and fishermen expressed concern yesterday about plans to build a 1,260-megawatt dam on the Mekong river in northern Laos, with the NGO WWF asking for a 10-year delay in any approval of the hydropower project.

The Mekong River Commission announced Wednesday it had received official notification of the planned dam from Laos, one of four members of the regional body, which also includes Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The Xayaboury province project is the first dam to be put forward for approval by the MRC members out of a total of 11 planned for the lower Mekong.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, called “for a special discussion with involvement from civil society groups and NGOs to determine Cambodia’s position” on the dam.

Mr Sam Ath said he was concerned about the dam’s impact downstream, including on fish that migrate up and down the river.

Environmentalist groups have forecast that dams could reduce the productivity of lower Mekong fisheries by up to 70 percent.

Om Savath, program manager for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, or Fact, said any dam construction had to be studied to minimize environmental impact.

“They should have a serious study to reduce its impact to the least,” he said. “The fishermen are very concerned about the impact on fisheries because they depend on fish to make a living.”

Kratie province fishermen Kin Sok also voiced concern.

“If there is any dam building, the government should study its impact seriously,” he said.

According to an MRC statement on Wednesday, the Xayaboury dam notification triggered a process in which member countries jointly review the dam “with a view to reaching consensus on whether or not it should proceed, and if so, under what conditions.” The process should take six months, according to the statement.

The statement also said the MRC had undertaken an environmental impact assessment of all dams proposed for the Mekong, including eight planned or already built on the upper part of the river in China. The assessment should be finished early next month.

Pich Dun, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Committee, said the Cambodian government had yet to formulate a position on the dam and “will establish the working group to discuss this issue.”

Mr Dun said the government had consulted in the past with members of civil society and did not know if such a step was needed for the proposed dam.

“First, we need to discuss among other member countries,” he said.

Nicole Frisina, communications manager for the WWF Greater Mekong, wrote in an e-mail that “WWF’s position is there should be a 10-year delay in the approval of lower Mekong river mainstream dams, including the Xayabouly dam” to ensure a complete understanding of impacts.

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