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Updated : 04/05/2014 20:00 GMT + 7
Laos Government should consult Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the construction of a new hydropower project which is projected to begin late this year, said Vietnamese senior state officials at a recent press conference of the 2nd MRC Summit 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Laos officially announced its plan to build the 260MW Don Sahong hydropower project on the river in October last year, the second move after the Southeast Asian country publicized its plan to build Xayaburi hydropower project on the Mekong River in November 2012.
When asked by Tom Fawthrop, the English collaborator of the UK magazine The Economist, at the conference held to conclude the 4-day event, Nguyen Minh Quang, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment said Laos should consult with other MRC members again about the project before taking any move.
“Though already being informed by Lao side that work on the project will be started by the end of this year, both the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides have agreed that Laos should comply with the 1995 MRC Mekong Agreement,” Quang said.
According to the agreement, all MRC member countries should consult with the remaining MRC members when they want to build a new hydropower project on the mainstream of the Mekong River, and in this case it is the Don Sahong project, Quang added.
“In addition, we [Vietnamese and Cambodian governments] also recommended Laos only to begin work on the project after new rules comes into effect. The new rules will be released as soon as the environmental assessments of hydropower plants on the mainstream of the river jointly conducted by the three countries for the period ending by 2015 complete,” he said.
“In the yesterday meeting between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian and Laotian counterparts, Prime Minister Dung and Prime Minister Hun Sen also suggested Laos to reconsider the recommendation of Vietnam and Cambodia,” Quang said.
“We think that Laos have taken our recommendations very seriously,” Ha Kim Ngoc, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at the conference.
“Laos officials have told us that as they carried out the hydropower plants on the mainstream of the Mekong River, they weigh both the benefits those project may bring to Lao people and the side effects on Cambodian and Vietnamese people very carefully.”
“Once they find that the side effects are greater than expectation, they will surely adjust the projects [to fit with the new circumstance],” he added.
|“The Lao Government has notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with the development oftheDonSahong Hydropower ProjectintheSiphandone area of Southern Laos.The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 260 megawatts of electricity. In its notification, submitted to the MRC Secretariat and dated 30 September 2013,LaoPDR also provided the complete technical feasibility study , including the project’s social and environmental impact assessments and fisheries study which will be shared with the other MRC Member Countries—Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.According to the Government of LaoPDR, the project’s construction is expected to start in November 2013 and finish by February 2018. The commercial operation is set to begin in May 2018. The energy generated by the project will be fully sold to the national power utility,Electricite du Laos (EDL), to supply the increased domestic power demand.”
(Press release dated 3rd Oct 2013 on the official MRC website)
Intensified and balanced interactions are key to achieve practical goals to tackle climate change woes amidst increased water, energy and food demands, concluded an International Conference
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Updated : 04/05/2014 13:45 GMT + 7
Accelerating basin-wide studies to reduce negative impacts and battling natural disaster woes are among key priorities for Mekong nations as the second Mekong River Commission summit concluded in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday.
Heads of government of Cambodia, Lao, Thailand and Vietnam Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to the Mekong cooperation, to follow up the implementation of the Hua Hin Declaration of 2010, and set priorities for the Mekong River Commission, including the need to expedite studies and research for sound advice and recommendations on development that will increasingly place burdens on Mekong resources.
The Ho Chi Minh City Declaration was adopted by the premiers of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and the Special Envoy of Thailand.
Among its conclusions, the leaders stated that The MRC Council Study and the Mekong Delta Study will provide a basis for better understanding about potential risks and benefits of development initiatives.
At the end of the 2nd MRC Summit, the national leaders also set other priorities for the Mekong River Commission to take action to address regional opportunities and challenges over the next decade including population growth, increasing demand for water, food and energy and climate change.
The Council Study on Sustainable Management and Development of the Mekong River, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower projects has been initiated by the MRC Council which comprises water and environment ministers at their annual Meeting in December 2011.
The Council Study aims to provide a better picture on potential transboundary impacts due to mainstream developments.
“To address such challenges, national efforts are not enough.
“We need to strengthen regional cooperation, particularly among the riparian countries, both upper and lower, through multilateral and sub-regional mechanisms such as the MRC,” said Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, whose country hosted the 2nd MRC Summit.
“We note that the development of water resources of the Mekong River Basin has contributed largely to the socio-economic development of the region, such as for navigation, energy and food production, but also has negative environmental and social impacts in the Basin that need to be fully and effectively addressed,” the leaders said in the Ho Chi Minh City Declaration they adopted at the 2nd MRC Summit.
The MRC will focus on avoiding, reducing and mitigating risks to river ecology, food security, livelihoods and water quality posed by intensive agriculture, aquaculture and irrigation as well as hydropower, navigation and other development activities, the Declaration says.
The document acknowledges the progress made since the 1st Summit in Hua Hin in 2010 and reiterates the need for the Member Countries to work through the mechanisms of the MRC to manage the shared waters.
“The MRC should be measured in how it fosters international cooperation and in the end how the outcomes of the cooperation is producing improvements in society, the environment and economic development,” said Hans Guttman, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.
The leaders also prioritized further efforts to reduce the risks of floods and droughts and the effects of sea level rise in the Mekong Basin.
In battling the effects of natural disaster, leaders stressed that the Mekong Countries recognize that climate change will continue to alter the hydrological regime of the basin and consequently effect livelihoods and economies in the region.
The MRC will look ahead and set a clear direction, identifying new opportunities and addressing challenges to come up with the next strategic plan and to engage more meaningfully not only with development partners but also all other stakeholders, especially civil society.
The heads of government reaffirmed their political commitment to implement the 1995 Mekong Agreement and commit to enhance and strengthen the MRC’s relationships and cooperation with Dialogue Partners, China and Myanmar and Development Partners.
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April 3rd 2014
BANGKOK, THAILAND — This week officials from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand will meet to discuss the impact of planned hydropower dams on the lower Mekong region. But several environmental groups have already concluded the main Xayaburi dam in Laos will devastate communities that depend on the Mekong river for food, and they want to stop the project.
Ahead of this week’s meeting of the Mekong River Commission, 39 international environmental groups called on the government to halt construction on the Xayaburi dam before February 2015. The declaration also called on the government of Thailand to cancel its agreement to buy electricity generated by the dam.
The Xayaburi is the first of 11 proposed dams to be built on the Lower Mekong River. The $3.8 billion, Thai-financed dam is intended primarily to produce electricity for the Thai market. Officials from countries in the region have been regularly meeting to discuss the planned dams, and review assessments of their environmental impact on a river basin that is a critical food source for some 60 million people.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Marc Goichot, who is a regional expert on hydropower says more time is still needed to review these projects.
“The Xayaburi project will only contribute about 2% to the demand of Thailand and the demand of Thailand doesn’t really need the project until 2026, so there’s no rush,” said Goichot. “The suspension of this power-purchasing agreement will give time to all parties to study the impact.”
Construction has already begun on the Xayaburi dam, despite objections voiced by downstream countries Vietnam and Cambodia. Activists now hope they can stop the project before a coffer dam is built next February, which would divert water to allow construction of the main dam on the riverbed. The World Wildlife Fund says this would be the first step in the construction process to cause major irreversible damage to the river’s ecosystem.
The Mekong Agreement, signed by Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995, precludes construction from going forward without mutual consent from other governments.
An initial assessment of the environmental impact was said to fall short of international standards, and further impact assessments are ongoing. At the MRC’s last summit, the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia requested that construction be halted for 10 years, or until the impact can be accurately assessed.
Leading conservation groups on Sunday issued a joint declaration opposing the construction of Laos’ controversial Xayaburi hydropower dam as communities in northeastern Cambodia staged protests on Saturday against the project, which experts say could harm millions of people living downstream.
The joint declaration, signed by 39 environmental groups, comes ahead of this week’s Mekong River Commission (MRC) summit in Ho Chi Minh City during which high-level delegations from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand will address the impact of dam development on the Lower Mekong region.
The Xayaburi dam is the first of 10 proposed dams on the mainstream Lower Mekong River and the Lao government, despite fierce resistance from Cambodia and Vietnam, has pushed ahead with its development, making it a test case for the MRC’s goal of achieving regional consensus before dam-building goes ahead.
“[T]he Xayaburi hydropower project in Lao PDR is one of the potentially most damaging dams currently under construction anywhere in the world” and “constitutes the greatest trans-boundary threat to date to food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the Lower Mekong River basin,” the declaration says.
Amid mounting evidence that the dam will cause irreversible damage to biodiversity, fish stocks and human livelihoods, the signatories have set a one-year deadline to achieve a halt on construction so that the MRC’s study on the potential long-term effects of large-scale dams can be completed.
“The Mekong Summit is the critical moment for Cambodia and Vietnam to take a strong stance and make their concerns heard loud and clear before it is too late,” Kraisak Choonhavan, former chairman of Thailand’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said in the statement.
The groups are also calling on Thailand to pressure Laos by pulling out of its agreement to purchase most of the electricity generated by the Xayaburi dam, and asking the consortium of six Thai banks financing its construction to reconsider the effect on their reputations of bankrolling a potentially devastating project.
Laos has also announced that a second mainstream dam, the 256-MW Don Sahong dam—just 1.5 km from the Cambodian border —will also go ahead without regional consultation, despite the fact that studies have shown it threatens the entire ecosystem of the Lower Mainstream Mekong by blocking the only channel in southern Laos that allows year-round fish migration.
Communities Take to the River
On Saturday, more than 200 protesters in Stung Treng province took to the Mekong River in boats to draw attention to the danger the Don Sahong dam presents to local communities and wildlife, such as the critically endangered Mekong River dolphin.
Villagers—including students and local officials—gathered at Preah Romkil pagoda in Thal Borivat district at 8 a.m. and traveled by boat to an area of the river inhabited by the dolphins, according to Vong Kosal, a legal officer for NGO Forum, which last week drafted a petition calling for the immediate halt of the dam.
“We are collecting thumbprints from all participants and will send them to the [Cambodian] government to convey our concerns with the other heads of states at [MRC] summit in Vietnam,” Mr. Kosal said.
A separate protest on Saturday in Kratie province saw another 200 people board 42 boats in Sambor district for a seven-hour journey to raise alarm among communities living along the Mekong River.
“We have prepared an open letter and will send our message to the four countries attending the summit to stop construction of the [Don Sahong] project,” said Sam Sovann, executive director of the Northeastern Rural Development Organization.
Elsewhere, Some 200 ethnic Chong villagers in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley will today submit a petition to the provincial government office as part of an ongoing protest against the imminent construction of the Stung Chhay Areng dam.
Development of the dam by Chinese company Sinohydro (Cambodia) United Ltd., local environmental groups argue, will lead to hundreds of evictions and require the flooding of thousands of hectares of land, including areas of the Cardamom Protected Forest considered sacred to the Chong.
“The villagers want the general public to know that their ancestral land is threatened by the development of this dam,” said Ing Kongcheth, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho.
“They want the dam project canceled—the damage it will cause if it goes ahead is huge.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)
© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved.
By Daniel Quinlan
“From my view, I don’t want to have it, but it is development, we can’t stop them,” says Srekor’s village chief, Leang Saroeurn.
Cambodia’s impressive yearly GDP growth rates of 7 percent for the last decade have come, in part, through a ravenous consumption of the countries natural resources.
While this cashing in on natural resources has helped boost macro economic figures, they have also highlighted the divide between rich and poor and created a growing pool of people disenfranchised and removed from their traditional lands. This in turn has helped build and fuel Cambodia’s on-going political crisis.
Between 2000 and 2012, according to researchers from the University of Maryland, Cambodia lost 7 percent of its forest cover, much of it driven by the thirst for luxury wood and large plantations.
But it is not only the country’s land and trees that are in danger, its rivers are increasingly the target of development plans.
The Chinese-built Lower Russei Dam, Cambodia’s largest, went online earlier this month with a reported 333 mega watt capacity.
Further north around the Lower Sesan 2 project, trucks and earth moving equipment have started preparing the dam site. When completed it will provide over 420 Mega Watt capacity to the power starved nation and become Cambodia’s largest hydro dam, for at least a little while.
To becomes Cambodia’s biggest dam it will first have to flood seven villages. While its village chief may be resigned to the powerful forces he can’t control, other less tangible forces are also on Leang Saroeurn’s mind.
“If we are talking about the spirits, we don’t know whether they are going to be the same or not, from our old village to the new one,” he said.
He is not alone. The indigenous people of the area mix Buddhism with ancient forms of sprit and ancestor worship. Seventy-eight-year-old Chan Thun worries that “if we are relocated, the spirits and our ancestors could curse or mistreat us.”
More worldly concerns also exist. Critics say that upriver dams are already struggling to reach their capacity and that during summer, when there is the most demand for power, the projects’ output will be closer to 100 Mega Watts.
According to the Asia Development Bank the dam will be an extremely inefficient considering the area of flooded land.
Land disputes are common around large-scale development projects the world over but they are even more urgent in a country with Cambodia’s levels of poverty.
Land, rivers and natural resources can be the difference between life and death for people with little liquidity in the cash economy and are dependent on the protein of fish and the medicines of forests.
One study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found the dam will cause a 9.3 percent drop in fish stocks across the basin and will threaten up to 50 species of fish.
Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, has battled against the Lower Sesan 2 project for years. He is concerned about the ability of locals to sustain themselves on the proposed relocation sites. So are the villagers who have to move.
According to Open Development Cambodia, an organisation that publishes development data, some 50 hydropower projects are either planned or are underway in the country, many of which fall well below best practices in terms of local consultation, compensation and environmental impacts.
The damming of rivers is a touchy political issue across the planet, especially for those downstream, and the Mekong and its tributaries are no exception.
At a seminar on water at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said in 2011: “It would not be over-exaggerating … to view the water resources of the 21st century as the oil of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
He is not alone. Indian academic Brahma Chellaney, in his ominously titled book from 2011, ‘Water: Asia’s New Battleground’, makes a similar argument.
Dams on the Mekong, the world’s 12th largest river, are an increasingly tense issue. The Mekong plays host to one of the world’s most productive inland fisheries and is a life-source for 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin.
China has the largest number of hydroelectric dams in the world, and that experience is being used to help build dams in downstream countries. They are now involved in at least four of the mainstream dams on the Mekong, and even more on its tributaries.
In many ways it is, quite literally, a race to the bottom. The Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) ‘prior consultation’ process was an effort to reduce regional tensions but the commission doesn’t cover tributaries and is far from a cure-all.
Laos’s controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam, initially halted due to the objections of Cambodia and Vietnam, is now going ahead.
Don Sahong Dam, closer to the Cambodian border and potentially even more problematic in terms of impacts on downstream fishers, is also likely to go ahead. It too failed to get the prior approval MRC countries, endangering the credibility of the commission itself.
To make matters worse, according to the International Energy Agency, demands for energy in Southeast Asia will increase by more than 80% by 2035, creating more pressure for projects whatever the environmental impact and their associated human costs.
This pressure is already apparent in Cambodia. Only 26% of the population has access to electric power, making it one of the lowest electrification rates in the world, according to the World Bank. Power is expensive and much of it is imported from neighbouring countries.
Around the Lower Sesan 2 site last week it was the burning season. Smoke drifted from dwindling forest across recently cleared land. Logs sat by roads. And poor people contemplated their relocation to less fertile ground.
Near the river, Vann Thea, was sewing cloths in her small bussness. Taking a short break, she said, “I don’t want to go to the new place. I just only want to live here.” Unfortunately, like hundreds of thousands of her compatriots, her wishes are no match for development.
Additional reporting from Phak Seangly and Daniel Pye