Laos Will Consult With Neighbors Over Dam

The Lao government has agreed to a lengthy public consultation process with its neighbors before building a controversial hydropower dam on the Mekong River, within 2 km of the Cambodian border, according to the environmental group WWF.

Laos announced the 256-MW Don Sahong dam last year when it notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental body of officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, of its intentions to begin construction by year’s end.

With that announcement, Laos skipped a required six-month “prior consultation” process with its neighbors as required by the MRC under the 1995 Mekong River Agreement for dams that may affect neighboring countries’ waterways.

After months of criticism from environmentalists, who warned that the dam would deplete fisheries in Cambodia, and requests from the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments to halt the project, Laos agreed at an MRC meeting last week to postpone the dam’s construction.

“Laos is now promising to do what they already signed up to under the Mekong agreement, and should have done months ago,” Marc Goichot, manager of sustainable hydropower and river basin management at WWF Greater Mekong, said in an emailed statement.

“Their decision to consult on the Don Sahong project, and share critical details about the project’s impacts, comes after intense pressure from neighboring countries. It is critical that pressure is maintained to ensure Laos delivers on their promise,” the statement continues.

Kol Vathana, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said he was unaware of the decision by the Lao government because he had not been at last week’s meeting. Neither Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor nor his cabinet chief Chan Youttha could be reached for comment.

Laos is already completing one dam on the Mekong, the controversial Xayaburi dam, which went ahead despite the disapproval of Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong River Agreement, which also requires a consensus among MRC members before dams are built, is non-binding.

“There is currently little faith in the MRC’s process to ensure joint decisions are made for the benefit of all Mekong nations,” said Mr. Goichot. “If Laos fails to be held to account, the MRC will soon lose its legitimacy and 60 million people living in the Mekong basin will suffer.”

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