Archive for April 19th, 2011

April 19, 2011

Pressure mounts to delay “dangerous” $3.5 bln Mekong dam

View Original Source:  http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/19/laos-dam-idUSL3E7FJ1QR20110419

Tue Apr 19, 2011 8:54am EDT

* Experts warn of irreversible damage if dam goes ahead

* Four countries say issue should be handled by ministers

* Food security, agriculture, fisheries threatened

* Environmentalists, neighbours push for delay, detailed study (Adds detail, NGO comment)

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK, April 19 (Reuters) – Plans for the first dam across the lower Mekong River are putting Laos on a collision course with its neighbours and environmentalists who fear livelihoods, fish species and farmland could be destroyed, potentially sparking a food crisis.

The impoverished, Communist nation seems determined to defy international pressure and forge ahead with construction of the $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam, a mostly Thai-led project that experts say could cause untold environmental damage.

The four countries that share the lower stretches of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong — Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia — failed at a meeting on Tuesday to reach an agreement on construction of the 1.285-megawatt (MW) dam, the first of 11 planned in the lower Mekong that are expected to generate 8 percent of Southeast Asia’s power by 2025.

In a joint statement, they said there was “still a difference in views” and the issue should be handled at ministerial level.

Mekong basin countries are bound by a treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before building dams, but none has veto powers and Laos will have the final say, although not without considerable diplomatic pressure.

Ecologists and rivers experts say an environmental impact assessment conducted last year by the Lao government was patchy at best. They warn that the livelihoods of 60 million people in the lower Mekong region are at risk if the Xayaburi dam goes ahead without proper risk assessment.

Activists say scores of fish species face extinction, fish stocks will dwindle as migratory routes will be blocked, and swathes of rice-rich land could be deprived of fertile silt carried downstream by Southeast Asia’s longest waterway.

Entire villages would be forced to relocate.

According to a study by the Mekong River Commission, an inter-government agency, the proposed 11 dams would turn 55 percent of the river into reservoirs, resulting in estimated agriculture losses of more than $500 million a year and cutting the average protein intake of Thai and Lao people by 30 percent.

China has built four dams on the upper river, closer to its source, but they are equally controversial. Activists say they were responsible for a drought last year that sent lower Mekong water levels to their lowest in half a century.

Laos has not responded to the warnings or to scientists’ recommendations. Viraphonh Viravong, head of the Lao delegation, said after Tuesday’s meeting that it would “consider” accommodating its neighbours concerns, but an extension of the consultation process was no longer practical.

The Lao government has hailed Xayaburi as a model for clean, green energy that will stimulate its tiny $6 billion economy and improve the lives of its 5.9 million people, over a quarter of whom live below the poverty line, many without electricity.

Its energy-hungry neighbour, Thailand, will buy about 95 percent of the power generated by the dam and three Thai firms have a stake in the project, according to an announcement on Thailand’s stock exchange last month.

Thailand’s No. 2 building contractor, CH Karnchang Pcl , has 57 percent share in the project, state-owned energy giant PTT has a 25 percent share and Electricity Generating PCL a 12.5 percent stake in the dam, which Thailand’s government has said very little about.

Dubbed the “battery of Southeast Asia” because of its hydropower ambitions, Laos is already committed to supplying 7,000 MW to Thailand, 5,000 MW to Vietnam, and 1,500 MW to Cambodia by 2015. Its energy ministry says it has the potential to generate 28,000 MW of power from the Mekong.

INTENSE OPPOSITION

But opposition is fierce. Protests over the dam have been held in Thailand and in some villages in Laos where dissent is rare. Some 263 non-governmental organisations have petitioned Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to scrap it.

U.S. Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat and chairman of the U.S. senate subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, said the dam was “very troubling” and would “have devastating environmental, economic and social consequences for the entire Mekong subregion”.

“It would be prudent to delay construction … until adequate planning and multilateral coordination can be guaranteed. Absent this collaborative approach, the stability of Southeast Asia is at risk,” he said in a statement last week.

Vietnam and Cambodia have made public calls for the project to be postponed pending further studies, while state-controlled media in Vietnam has been uncharacteristically critical, which suggests behind-the-scenes diplomacy had failed.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong said Mekong countries “must cooperate closely in exploiting and using natural resources in a fair and proper manner”, while Watt Botkosal, deputy secretary general of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, called for a thorough study on the “impact on the social economy that millions of people rely on”.

What has raised eyebrows is Laos’s refusal to back down in the face of clear opposition from Vietnam, which has long exerted major influence on its much smaller socialist neighbour. Analysts say Laos has a lot to lose if it upsets Hanoi, its biggest investor.

“What’s happening is unprecedented. It’s hard to see who is really in favour of this dam,” said Ian Baird, an expert on Laos and specialist on hydropower dams and fisheries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UNCHARTED WATERS

“Laos isn’t going to make any friends here. Politically, these are uncharted waters and it’s difficult to see quite where this is going.”

Baird said the environmental assessment carried out by Laos lacked credibility, while five international experts interviewed by the U.S.-based environmental group, International Rivers, delivered scathing criticism of a report they said was “contradictory”, “incomplete” and “irresponsible”.

But what has outraged most activists and could embarrass Laos within the 10-member ASEAN regional bloc are reports that appear to show the Lao government and its Thai partners have already started construction on the dam.

Sunday’s Bangkok Post newspaper carried pictures of construction of what it said was a 30 km (19 mile) stretch of road leading up to the dam site, with 20 trucks lined up each bearing the logos of CH Karnchang.

International Rivers said the decision to refer the case to ministers was a reprieve that presented a window of opportunity to strengthen international opposition to the project.

“Given the project’s inevitable trans-boundary impacts we urge the region’s governments to acknowledge the widespread concern of the public and civil society groups and indefinitely cancel the Xayaburi Dam project,” it said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh and John Ruwitch in Hanoi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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April 19, 2011

Mekong River dam at center of high-stakes conservation fight

View Original Source:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42649686/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

Laos defers decision amid controversy that the plan would destroy a lifeline for millions in Southeast Asia

Fish and fishing have been a central part of life along the Mekong for thousands of years. This ancient carving from Angkor Wat illustrates the importance of fish in everyday life and shows some of the same carp and catfish species that are staples today. (Courtesy of Zeb Hogan / University of Nevada, Reno)

Image: Miranda Leitsinger

By Miranda Leitsinger Reporter

updated 4/19/2011 11:01:25 AM ET

Millions of people living along the Mekong River face a crisis that could destroy their lifeline and kill off whole species of fish: construction of a dam — the first of 11 proposed in the waterway’s lower basin — in Laos.

Conservationists warn that the dam could significantly reduce the critical fish stock in the Mekong, the world’s most productive inland fishery.

Laos deferred a decision on the hydropower dam Tuesday in the face of strong opposition from neighboring countries, including one of its closest allies, Vietnam. But any decision could be a moot point, as a Thai newspaper reported Sunday that work on the project apparently began months ago despite questions and opposition from conservationists and Laos’s downriver neighbors, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Under earlier agreements, Laos has the right to proceed on its own without approval of the other three nations. But Tuesday’s move appears to indicate that the desperately poor country wants its neighbors’ support, especially that of Vietnam, which is a major trading partner and political patron.

The Xayaburi dam would generate 1,260 megawatts of electricity, mostly for export to Thailand, according to the Mekong River Commission — created by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in 1995 to oversee sustainable development along the waterway.

Laos proposed building the dam in September 2010, the main goal being to generate “foreign exchange earnings for financing socio-economic development in Lao PDR,” according to the river commission.

The 3,000-mile river, which winds from China’s Tibetan Plateau through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is home to nearly 1,000 freshwater fish species — including more species of giant fish, such as the Mekong giant catfish and the dog-eating catfish, than any other river. It provides a total harvest of about 2.5 million metric tons a year worth up to $6.5 billion, according to fish biologist Zeb Hogan, a research professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has studied the river for 15 years.

A critical resource
The Mekong is critical to the 60 million people who reside in the lower basin, with many of them living in poverty, according to the MRC’s 2010 “State of the Basin” report.

Mekong River  Commission MRC/Bing.com

“The livelihoods and food security of most people in the basin are closely linked to the Mekong and the resources it supports,” the report said, noting that fish “provide an important contribution to regional food security, in the form of consumption of fish bought or caught and cash income from fish related activities, ranging from making nets to fish sales.”

About two-thirds of the population of the lower Mekong Basin population — or 40 million people — are involved in the Mekong’s fishery at least part-time or seasonally, the MRC said.

Children, families and fishermen employ a wide variety of nets along the Mekong riverbanks, including some that resemble large butterfly nets and others that float in the water, typically marked by plastic bottles. Babies in fishing families living on boats drift to sleep in swings made of fishing net, while children in Cambodia play with the tails of giant sting rays. People wash vegetables, animals, clothes and even motorcycles in the waterway.

In a review of the Thai developer’s plans, the MRC expressed concerns that the project, which would be the first in the Mekong’s lower basin, would negatively affect the fishery. Among other things, it said a proposed “fish ladder” for migration up and downstream was “ineffective,” and would “result in species loss over time,” with a “strong possibility” of the Mekong giant catfish becoming extinct.

It also said that power generation could be reduced due to sedimentation that could result in a loss of 60 percent of the reservoir’s capacity and that plans for water quality and aquatic ecosystem health did not meet international best practice.

‘A number of areas of uncertainty’
“The project review by the MRC Secretariat highlights a number of areas of uncertainty on which further information is needed to address fully the extent of transboundary impacts and mitigation measures required,” the report said. “Some of these have implications for the financing and operation of the proposed project as well as its long-term sustainability.”

In an environmental assessment prepared for the MRC, the International Center for Environmental Management proposed deferring decisions on dams for 10 years and noted: “The Mekong mainstream should never be used as a test case for proving and improving full dam hydropower technologies.”

Conservation groups and some of Laos’ neighbors have also expressed opposition to the project.

Officials in both Vietnam and Cambodia had urged delays on a decision, according to reports in The Saigon Times Daily and the The Phnom Penh Post.

International Rivers, a California-based group that campaigns to protect rivers, said the project would forcibly resettle more than 2,100 people and directly affect more than 202,000. Aviva Imhof, interim executive director of the group, said she worried about the precedent this first dam could set if allowed to proceed.

“Our fear is that if this project which is, its such a poor standard of development, is allowed to go forward, it will literally open the floodgates for all these other projects to go forward,” she said. “That’s why we believe it’s crucial that the governments of the region recognize that this project and all the others present a really serious threat to the river ecology and to people’s livelihoods.”

The Thai developer, Ch. Karnchang Public Co. Ltd., has played down the concerns.

Developer touts benefits
In an undated report on the project, it stated that only 424 households would have to be resettled. And it stated that the project “would use the enormous potential of the huge Mekong mainstream, an international river, for the benefit of its riparian countries, especially to the Lao PDR … and Thailand, where reliable supply would satisfy its high demand.” And the money generated by the electricity sales would help Laos strengthen its economy and improve social welfare, it said.

It also said the project would not alter water flow — thereby avoiding water fluctuations and bank erosion — and would improve boat navigation, maintain fish migration by providing fish-passing facilities and allow sediment to move downstream through sluices.

At Tuesday’s day-long meeting, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam raised concerns about “gaps in technical knowledge and studies about the project, predicted impact on the environment and livelihoods of people in the Mekong Basin and the need for more public consultations,” the MRC said in a statement.

Vietnam proposed that this project — and other hydropower projects planned for the Mekong mainstream — be delayed for at least 10 years.

“The deferment should be positively seen as a way to provide much-needed time for riparian governments to carry out comprehensive and more specific quantitative studies on all possible cumulative impacts,” Le Duc Trung, head of Vietnam’s delegation, said in the MRC statement. “The deferment would enable the country to secure better understanding and the confidence of the public and local communities.”

Laos disagreed, saying it was not practical to extend the process and argued that the dam would not have a negative environmental impact on its neighbors.”

“We appreciate all comments, (and) we will consider to accommodate all concerns,” said Viraphonh Viravong, head of the Lao Delegation.

Since the four nations could not reach a consensus on how to proceed with the project, they agreed to pass it over to consideration by the MRC Council, which consists of water and environmental ministers from each of those countries. The council could call a special meeting to take up the matter, or it could wait until it’s annual meeting near year’s end to address the project, said Tiffany Hacker, an MRC spokeswoman.

While the criticism had been harsh in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, it may already have been drowned out by the sound of bulldozers.

The Bangkok Post on Sunday reported that their reporters last week “found major road works under construction” in the area surrounding the proposed dam and “villagers preparing to be relocated” — with some told they would get about $15 in compensation. In an editorial on Monday titled “Shame on the dam builders,” the Post wrote: “There is no chance that anyone connected with this sneaky endeavour will actually play straight with the public.”

It also claimed the Thai government gave political backing to the decision because that country would be the major beneficiary of the dam — both in jobs and salaries from the Thai firm building it and the electricity produced by it — despite strong local opposition. However, the MRC said in its statement that Thailand’s delegation had raised concerns about the project and joined the majority in passing it to the river council.

Glahan, of the MRC, said the consultation process between the four countries on the Xayaburi dam was intended to finish before preliminary construction began. Birgit Vogel, an MRC technical adviser, said she visited the proposed dam site in November 2010.

“When we visited, we couldn’t see any signs of construction,” she said by phone, noting she had seen the photos from the Bangkok newspaper. “Regarding the current construction, we’ve not been officially informed, but we will write to Lao PDR for clarification on the case.”

‘A free-flowing river’
Hogan, the University of Nevada biologist, said his opposition to the dam wasn’t simply a matter of a conservationist opposing any dam.

“The Lower Mekong River is still a free-flowing river. It remains incredibly productive and we haven’t seen any species extinctions yet,” he said. “You compare that to somewhere, for instance, like the Red River in China or the Yangtze River in China, where the river is so polluted that people can no longer use it — they’re not fishing there anymore, people can no longer use it for drinking water.”

Forty to 70 percent of the river’s fish are migratory, including some of the largest freshwater fish in the world, which are critically endangered but have managed to survive because they can complete their life cycle without impediment, Hogan said.

Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for International Rivers, said the river had “gotten a much-needed but temporary reprieve.”

“A healthy Mekong River is central to sustainable development in the region, and simply too precious a resource to squander,” she said in a statement. “Given the project’s inevitable transboundary impacts, we urge the region’s governments to acknowledge the widespread concern of the public and civil society groups and indefinitely cancel the Xayaburi Dam project.”

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April 19, 2011

Mekong countries urge delay of Laos dam project amid ecological concerns

View Original Source:  http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/04/20/national/Mekong-countries-urge-delay-of-Laos-dam-project-am-30153480.html

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
Published on April 20, 2011

Laos needs to delay the controversial Xayaburi hydropower project on the mainstream Mekong for more consultation, representatives of neighbouring countries said at an international meeting yesterday.


They claimed Laos had failed to convince the other three riparian countries on the lower Mekong River over the dam’s possible impact on the environment and ecological system.

Representatives of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam discussed the project at a special session of the Mekong River Commis-sion Joint Committee (JC) in Vientiane.

The MRC received notification of the Xayaburi project from Laos last September. Under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), the four countries would consult one another on the proposal and then reach a conclusion, within six months of the notification, on how to proceed with the project.

Laos proposed to build the dam in its northern province of Xayaburi to generate foreign currency for its economy.

The hydroelectric power project provides for an installed capacity of 1,280 megawatts, with a dam 810 metres long and 32 metres high, and a reservoir area of 49 square kilometres and live storage of 225 million cubic metres. Major Thai construction firm Ch Karnchang is the developer.

There is still a difference in views from each country on whether the prior consultation process among MRC members for the project should come to an end, said JC chairman Te Navuth.

As the joint committee failed to reach common ground, it handed over any decision to the ministerial level, he said.

The MRC council (at ministerial level) is to have its next annual meeting in October. “But I cannot predict how and when the council will make a final decision for the project,” Te Navuth said in a phone interview from Vientiane.

Laos insisted there was no need to extend the process, since this option would not be practical, and environmental impacts across the boundaries of other riparian countries were unlikely. However, Laotian authorities promised to accommodate all comments and recommendations on the project.

“We appreciate all comments, [and] we will consider accommodating all concerns,” said Viraphonh Viravong, head of the Laotian delegation.

An extension to conduct further studies would require much longer than six months and it would not be possible to satisfy all parties’ concerns, he said.

The Xayaburi project will comply with the MRC Secretariat Prelim-inary Design Guidance and best practices based on international standards, he said. Major impacts on navigation, fish passage, sediment, water quality and aquatic ecology and dam safety could be mitigated to acceptable levels.

Cambodia, which is downstream from the proposed dam, said there was a need for a comprehensive study and assessment of the cross-boundary and cumulative environmental impacts.

Thailand, a major electric purchaser, raised concerns over how the lives of people who depend on the river would be affected.

“Therefore, we would like to see public views and concerns are well taken into consideration,” Jatuporn Buruspat, director-general of Thai Department of Water Resources, said in an official response to the project.

Meanwhile, Vietnam expressed serious concern for the lack of adequate, appropriate and comprehensive assessments of cross-boundary and cumulative impacts that the project may cause downstream, especially in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam recommended the deferment of this and other planned hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream for at least 10 years.

April 19, 2011

Vietnam worries about impacts from Laos hydroelectric project

Special Reports

View Original Source:  http://english.vietnamnet.vn/en/special-report/7275/vietnam-worries-about-impacts-from-laos-hydroelectric-project.html

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnamese scientists worried that the controversial Xayabury hydro-power project in Laos will make harmful impacts on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

Debate on hydro-power dams in Mekong River

Lesson from Thailand with Mekong dams

Dried Mekong River and countries’ responsibility

Vietnamese scientists grouped up in a talk entitled “Xayaburi and Mekong River’s water source”, held by the Vietnam Union of Scientific and Technological Associations (VUSTA) on April 18, one day before the Mekong River Commission (MRC) issues its decision on the construction of Xayaburi dam in Laos.

Xayaburi project, located in northern Laos, is the first of the 12 hydro-power plants that are scheduled on the major flow of the Mekong River. The big river runs from China through four downstream countries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Ho Uy Liem, VUSTA Vice Chair, said that the construction of Xayaburi will harm Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, which is the home to nearly 20 million people and supplies around 50 percent of rice output, over 70 percent of seafood and 70 percent of fruit output of Vietnam.

“If this dam is built, it will directly affect the lives of people, threat food security of Vietnam and the region,” Liem stressed.

Dao Trong Tu, former Secretary General of the Vietnam River Network (VRN) confirmed: “If the Xayaburi dam is built, it will be the first cannon shot for the construction of other dams on the entire major flow to the Mekong River’s downstream”.

Mr. Tu also emphasized that the building of Xayaburi and the 11 others on the major flow of the Mekong River’s downstream area will not benefit the Mekong Delta at all.

The report of MRC also said that the benefit for Vietnam from the Xayaburi project is very small compared to losses that the country will suffer.

Tu analyzed that this plant will be ran in the form of BOT (build-operation-transfer) in 25-30 years by private or foreign investors, so Laos will earn a small part from the expected $2.6 billion of annual revenues (around $676-806 million) from this project. During that time this country will bear high risks.

According to designs, Xayaburi and 11 remaining dams on the Mekong River’s main stream will only serve power generation. They will not function as flood control.

Tu said “that if Xayaburi is built, 55 percent of the length of the Mekong River’s main stream will become a reservoir, which will destroy the river’s living environment and ecological system.”

Specifically, 50 percent of the alluvial volume of Mekong River (around 165 million tons/year) will be kept by China’s reservoirs, and 25 percent kept by downstream reservoirs. Around 2.3 to 2.8 million hectares of agricultural land, mainly in Vietnam and Cambodia, will be affected. The volume of alluvial to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta will reduce from the current level of 26 million tons/year to 7 tons/year.

According to a research work by Nguyen Huu Thien, an expert from WWF Vietnam, the Mekong Delta will lose from 220,000 to 440,000 tons of migrant fish a year, equivalent to $0.5-1 billion.

Scientists from VRN said that there are many alternate energy solutions to meet economic development, instead of developing hydro-power plants on the main stream of the Mekong River.

At the talk, P’Eang, co-director of the Thailand-based Terra Ecological Restoration Foundation, said that many Thai scientists, organizations and residents strongly protested the Xayaburi project. On April 17, 100 Thais who live along the Mekong River stood in front of the Laos Embassy to oppose this project.

Ame from the International River Organization said that environmental impact assessment reports show that Laos doesn’t need to build the Xayaburi plant, because this project threatens the seafood output in the river, which is the source of living of dozens of millions of people.

The same day, the spokesperson of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, Nguyen Phuong Nga, spoke out Vietnam’s viewpoint on the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River, including the Xayaburi.

“The Mekong River is an international river which is of great significance for the socio-economic development and the spiritual and cultural life of people living along the riverbanks,” she said.

According to the Bangkok Post, Laos has been preparing for the construction of the Xayaburi dam for five months.

“As a nation lying along the Mekong River, Vietnam wants related nations to closely coordinate in making a thorough overall study of hydropower project impacts on the main current of the Mekong River, before making any decision on building these works.

“Countries along the banks of the river should closely cooperate equally and rationally in exploiting and using resources, particularly water resources, so as to protect the ecological environment; thus, contributing to the common sustainable development of the entire Mekong basin, and benefitting all nations and people living in the region,” she added.

According to the Bangkok Post, Laos has been preparing for the construction of the Xayaburi dam for five months.

Today, April 19, the Mekong River Commission will meet in Laos to make the final decision on the construction of the Xayaburi after six months of consultation. However, the commission’s decision is only for reference. Observers say that if the commission’s decision doesn’t satisfy Laos and investors, the case would be brought to an international committee, which has never happened so far.

Since 1995, member countries of the MRC agreed that any country that wants to build dams on the Mekong River must have consultation with related countries.

PV

April 19, 2011

Laos Seeks to Gain Neighbors’ Approval for $3.8 Billion Mekong River Dam

View Original Source:  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-19/laos-seeks-to-gain-neighbors-approval-for-3-8-billion-mekong-river-dam.html

By Daniel Ten Kate – Apr 18, 2011 11:45 PM ET
Bloomberg Markets Magazine

Fisherman Phonexay Vongphildeth stands near the Mekong River at Thatkhao village in the suburbs of Vientiane, Laos. Photographer: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

Laos will meet with neighboring Mekong River countries today in an effort to win their approval for a planned $3.8 billion hydropower dam and allay concerns it would disrupt fish catches and rice production downstream.

The Thai-financed Xayaburi hydropower plant is the first of about 10 dams the government plans to build on the mainstream Mekong, which runs from China’s Tibetan plateau through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Lao officials will make the final decision on plans for its biggest electricity plant to date after today’s meeting.

“The government will consider the concerns of the riparian countries and try to convince them of the advantages,” Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director general of Laos’s Department of Electricity, said by phone from Vientiene, the capital. “The project is necessary because our country is less developed. We don’t have other means to increase revenue.”

Southeast Asia’s smallest economy is aiming to use its resources to boost incomes for its 6 million citizens who comprise Asia’s youngest population. Hydropower and mining projects are set to underpin gross domestic product growth that may reach 7.7 percent this year, the Asian Development Bank said in an April 7 report.

The Mekong and its tributaries provide food, water and transportation to about 60 million people in those four countries. U.S. Senator Jim Webb said April 15 that approval of the dam could cause “irreversible” damage and threaten the stability of Southeast Asia.

Thai Builders

Thailand agreed in December to buy 95 percent of the electricity from the plant, which will have a capacity of 1,285 megawatts. Ch. Karnchang Pcl, Thailand’s third-biggest construction company by market value, owns a 57 percent stake in the 115 billion baht ($3.8 billion) project.

Ch. Karnchang shares have fallen 6.3 percent this year, compared with a 5.5 percent gain in Thailand’s benchmark SET Index. The Laos Composite Index, which opened on Jan. 11 with two stocks, has gained 34 percent since then.

PTT Pcl (PTT), Thailand’s biggest energy company, has a 25 percent stake, while Bangkok-based Electricity Generating Pcl (EGCO) owns 12.5 percent, according to company filings. The project is expected to start commercial operations in January 2019, PTT told the Thai stock exchange on March 1.

The Xayaburi plant will help “to secure and to stabilize” Thailand’s energy supply over the long term, Prasert Bunsumpun, president of state-owned PTT, said in the statement.

‘Bleak’ Future

Representatives from Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam will attend today’s meeting hosted by the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental body. The countries agreed in 1995 to consult each other before building hydropower plants on the Mekong or its tributaries.

International Rivers, a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit group that aims to protect rivers and human rights, expressed outrage yesterday after a report in the Bangkok Post that preliminary construction activities had begun on the dam.

“If the Lao government does not act in good faith and respect the regional processes that it has committed to, the future of the Mekong River and its people is indeed bleak,” Ame Trandem, a Mekong Campaigner with the group, said in a statement.

Vietnam officials in January recommended delaying the project and moving it to a Mekong tributary because it would affect “the safety of water sources and food security for Vietnam as well as for the whole world,” according to notes of the meetings posted on the commission’s website. Thailand and Cambodia also favored more studies on the dam, they show.

Giant Catfish

“Mekong nations need to work closely together to exploit and use the natural resource in a fair and proper manner in order to protect the environment,” Nguyen Phuong Nga, a spokeswoman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying in state-run Vietnam News today.

A technical review by the commission released last month found that the dam may lead to the extinction of species like the Mekong giant catfish and “gaps in knowledge” mean the full extent of the downstream impact on fisheries is hard to estimate. The dam “will not materially affect” the quantity and timing of river flows to Cambodia and Vietnam, it said.

China has already built four hydropower dams on the Mekong, completing the first one in 1993 without consulting its downstream neighbors. It plans to build four more as part of efforts to almost double its hydropower capacity to at least 300 gigawatts by 2020.

Laos also plans to sell electricity to Vietnam, Daovong said, adding that hydropower serves as an alternative to nuclear power. Vietnam, which faced rolling electricity outages in February, last year announced plans to build as many as 13 nuclear power plants with a capacity of 16,000 megawatts over the next two decades.

“We are trying to benefit not only our country, but also develop a cheap source of electricity for our neighbors,” Daovong said. “Each riparian country has the right to use the Mekong River for its own development.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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