Lao Dam Raises Fears of Damage to Fisheries

The planned construction of the Don Sahong dam in Southern Laos should not go ahead because it will seriously affect fisheries, biodiversity and livelihoods in downstream Cambodia and Vietnam despite assertions to the contrary by the Laos government, the NGO Forum on Cambodia said Thursday.

The Mekong River Commission on Tuesday and Wednesday paid its second visit to the proposed site of the 256-megawatt dam on the Don Sahong channel of the Mekong River, which is just 1.5 km from the Cambodian border, with NGO Forum—which is secretariat of the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia, the only local NGO invited on site.

At a press conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday, the group said Laos had failed to present scientifically plausible measures that would guarantee fish could still migrate between the lower and upper Mekong when the dam is complete, and it called on the Laos government to put the brakes on construction.

“We have asked the Laos government to halt the Don Sahong project because they haven’t carried out a cross-border EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] on the impact on fisheries resources,” said Tek Vanara, NGO Forum’s executive director.

Mr. Vanara said that during the visit, the project designer for Mega First Berhad, the Malaysian company constructing the dam, could give no scientific evidence on how fish would successfully migrate through two much shallower and narrower adjacent channels in the river.

“They provided no scientific answer…they just said they will try to facilitate fish migration through these channels but they haven’t decided how this will be achieved and this is a concern,” he said.

The site visit came after environmental watchdog WWF last week dismissed the EIA carried out by the Malaysian dam-building company, which the Laos government considers as a green light to plow ahead with the project, claiming it was unscientific and lacking evidence.

Laos’ Vice Minister for Energy and Mines, Viraphone Viravong, who was present at the press conference, reiterated his country’s confidence that the dam would have little negative impact.

“Don Sahong is the lowest impact of the [12 planned] mainstream dam projects,” he said, stressing that fish stocks were already diminished by over-fishing and global warming.

“If we are allowing fish migration, if we release all the sediment and we aren’t changing the water or the flow of the water—well I am not a fish expert, I am an engineering expert, but I am using common sense,” he said, adding that the dam would in fact make fishing more sustainable and ensure there is more fish in the Mekong.

Youk Senglong, program manager for the Fisheries Coalition Team, said Thursday that a protest was organized for March 28 to 30 in Kompong Cham, Stung Treng and Kratie provinces against the dam.

“Our message is to call for no mainstream dams on the Mekong,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Simon Henderson)

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