Laos, Firm Agree To Dam Mekong Near Border

The construction of the first hydropower dam across a section of the lower Mekong River mainstream, which experts warn could have a disastrous impact on Cam­bodia’s fisheries, has moved a step closer to reality.

Malaysian company Mega First Corporation Bhd has signed a project development agreement with the Laos government for the development of the Don Sahong Hydro­power Project, which is located just 1 km upstream from the Cambo­dian-Lao border.

According to a company announ­ce­ment dated Feb 14, the agreement allows the firm to de­velop, build, own and operate the dam.

Electricity generated by Don Sahong would be sold mainly to Laos and neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cam­­bodia, according to the an­nouncement, a copy of which was obtained last week.

Although the 240-megawatt dam would not cross the whole width of the Mekong, it would block one of the river’s mainstream channels in the Khone Falls area of Laos.

Experts have predicted that this could change the river’s ecology and fish migration routes, producing a devastating effect on fisheries downstream.

Cambodia’s Minister for Water Re­sources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor said Thursday that the Me­kong River Commission, which he currently chairs, is studying the impact the Don Sahong dam might have, and a report would be re­leased before the end of the year.

“The MRC have not ignored the po­tential problems with the fisher­ies on the Cambodian side,” he said.

“After the study is finished we will talk about the benefits and negatives because it is a multi-purpose project,” he said.

Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum on Cam­bodia, called on the government to take a firmer stance toward the dam and its possible impact on the country’s fisheries.

“It is very difficult to predict the exact nature of the impact, but numerous prominent organizations such as the World Fish Cen­ter have explained there will be a major one,” Ngy San said.

“The government and the dam-building company must show that this is not the case and the environmental impact assessment process should be participatory and public,” he said.

Fisheries expert Touch Seang Tana said some environmental groups could be overestimating the impact that Don Sahong would have on fisheries here.

“This is just one channel and I believe it will not cause a serious impact,” he said.

However, Carl Middleton, Me­kong program coordinator with the In­­ternational Rivers organization, said this was manifestly not the case.

“During a part of the dry season, this channel is the only one available for fish migration, so to block it would be very serious,” he said.

“It’s hard to see how the negative environmental and social impacts of Don Sahong would be outweighed by the economic benefits in Cambodia,” he added.

(Addi­t­ion­al reporting by Thet Sambath)

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