Villagers Elevate Concerns Over Mekong Dam Construction

Ahead of what is expected to be the final public meeting for a massive dam project on the Mekong River on Monday, communities whose livelihoods could be devastated by the construction say they have been inadequately informed and are willing to escalate their opposition, representatives said on Wednesday.

“We have millions of Mekong people, we have millions of Tonle Sap people, and then we have thousands of NGOs,” Tek Vannara, director of NGO Forum, said on the sidelines of a local conference on the dam in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

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Plants line the bank of the Mekong River near the Pak Beng dam site. (International Rivers)

Just five NGOs had been engaged during six months of public discussions about Pak Beng dam, in northern Laos, led by the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC), Mr. Vannara claimed.

Only one local consultation was held with villagers in Cambodia, and none of the research released by the MRC was translated into Khmer, he added.

Mr. Vannara said village representatives would send a letter to the Cambodian National Mekong Committee (CNMC) and MRC. It should be raised during Monday’s meeting in Vientiane, the last consultation expected to take place before construction begins, he said.

If it was not, he said, “we will go another step.”

Communities have raised the option of appealing directly to the dam’s developer, China Datang Overseas Investment Company.

Neither CNMC nor MRC officials responded to requests for comment.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al scoffed at the idea that villagers or NGOs had been excluded from discussions, however.

“If they attended the [environmental impact assessment] process, there are opportunities for them to raise anything they feel they are concerned about,” he said. “We send all these invitations to these people and they don’t turn up…. That’s not our fault.”

He declined to say whether the ministry would request the dam’s postponement or cancellation or to comment on potential negative impacts of the dam.

MRC representatives previously said that the dam’s current plans would “impact on fish passage, downstream sediment transport, and aquatic habitats,” and have “knock on impacts on the people and economy of the Lower Mekong Basin.”

Long Sochet, from a fishing community on the Tonle Sap, said the community’s livelihoods could be devastated.

“If all the dams—or especially the Pak Beng dam—have been built, it means our blood will be blocked and our heart will be stopped,” he said. “Our suggestion: No dam.”

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