No Consensus Reached on Mekong Dam

Representatives of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam failed to reach consensus at a meeting in Vientiane on Thursday on whether Laos be allowed to build a hydropower dam about 2 km from the Cambodian border and if downstream countries—whose fisheries will likely be most affected—have a right to nix the project.

Whether Laos was right in simply informing Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam of the 256 MW Don Sahong dam project, as they did in September, or if it should have undergone a prior consultation process with its neighbors, will now be discussed by the countries’ relevant ministers.

“Since they cannot make a common decision, the procedure asks for a ministerial meeting,” said Surasak Glahan, communications officer for the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body set up to help decision-making regarding the shared river. Mr. Glahan added that a date for the next ministers’ meeting had yet to be set.

Under the 1995 Mekong River Agreement, any dam planned for construction on the mainstream Mekong has to undergo a prior consultation process, giving all four members of the MRC the chance to veto dams that would affect the livelihoods of their people.

Laos, however, has argued that as the dam would only be built on one of the mainstream’s channels in the south of the country, it had complied with due diligence by simply notifying Thailand, Cambodia and Laos of its plans.

At Thursday’s meeting, Te Navuth, secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, who led the delegation in Vientiane, said that Laos needed to provide more information on the dam’s potential impact on fisheries, environment and food security.

“We view that the project documents are incomplete and the studies do not cover transboundry issues in countries such as Cambodia,” Mr. Navuth said during the meeting, according to a statement released afterward by the MRC.

The representatives of Thailand and Vietnam agreed, voicing concerns over the environmental and social impacts for millions of people in Cambodia and southern Vietnam as the Hou Sahong channel, where the Don Sahong will be located, was vital for year-round fish migration, the statement says.

Laos dismissed the concerns, saying that only a small part of the mainstream would be used, and that although the dam would be built on the Hou Sahong, fish could still use adjacent channels for migration.

“[Re]search indicates that other channels can be modified to improve migration in both directions all year round,” said Daovong Phonekeo, head of the Lao delegation.

During a media junket late last year, MegaFirst Berhard, the Malaysian company in charge of building the dam, said that they would trick fish into migrating through adjacent channels by altering the channel’s appearance to imitate the Hou Sahong.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia director of advocacy group International Rivers, called Laos’ claims “fatuous.”

“The Don Sahong dam is located in one of the worst places imaginable, as it’s at a point where there is a maximum concentration of fish migration in the river. For this reason, vital fish migration routes are likely to be blocked,” Ms. Trandem said.

“As no proven mitigation measures exist, Cambodia’s fisheries and the food security of millions of people will be at risk,” she added.

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