The mighty Mekong River, as the world knows it, may never be the same again if the Lao government has its way. There is a growing fear that up to 40 million people could be affected if the Xayaburi Dam and 12 other mainstream dams on the Mekong are to go ahead as planned.
The Xayaburi Dam would be the first dam to be built on the lower Mekong mainstream. It would displace thousands of people in Laos, disrupt an important fish migration route and cause the extinction of the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish, by destroying one of its last natural spawning habitats. The dam is being proposed by Thai company Ch. Karnchang, and over 95 percent of the power generated would be sold to Egat, the Thai electricity utility.
Environmental organizations around the world and donor countries such as the United States, a major contributor to the Mekong River Commission, have voiced their concern about the possible impact of the dam on the river’s ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people who live on this great waterway that runs through the heart of Southeast Asia.
The purpose of the strategic environmental assessment report is to evaluate the cumulative effects of the proposed mainstream dams. It is hoped that the Lao government will conduct the assessment properly, take its findings seriously and not treat the process as a formality. Its findings should be distributed publicly and debated throughout the region by all governments and other stakeholders.
The powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing one day after the MRC announced that it had received official notification from Laos that the country wished to proceed with the first dam, the Xayaburi, on the lower Mekong. The timing of the hearing suggests that Washington is serious about how its aid money is used.
The import of the Mekong River’s fisheries as a source for food security in the region is well known throughout the world, and the thought of its ecosystem being irreparably disturbed is indeed troubling. Such action could have serious ramifications at all levels political, social and economic. What is disturbing is the fact that the Lao government, the project developer Ch. Karnchang and the Mekong River Commission seem determined to push forward with the Xayaburi Dam despite the absence of a serious public debate on the important issues.
In her statement before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aviva Imhof, campaigns director for International Rivers, said to allow the Xayaburi consultation process to go forward without considering the findings of the strategic environmental assessment would be like “getting a diagnosis of cancer and then ignoring it”.
As a good neighbor, Thailand has a moral obligation to take into consideration the well-being of the people who stand to be affected by the dam’s construction. The same concern should also be taken up by the donor countries.
Thai environmental and community groups representing about 24,000 people in five provinces along the Mekong River have submitted a letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, asking him to cancel the plan to buy electricity from the Xayaburi Dam.
According to the World Wildlife Conservation Fund, the dam, if built, will block the sediment and nutrients that build the Mekong Delta and nourish its immense productivity, which provides more than 50 percent of Vietnam’s staple food crops. Moreover, the dam would alter wildlife habitats downstream in Laos and Cambodia, potentially having a devastating impact on wild fisheries and causing the likely extinction of critically endangered species.
“There must be a rigorous and transparent assessment of the impacts of this dam,” said Marc Goichot, sustainable infrastructure senior advisor for WWF Greater Mekong.
(Asia News Network)
The Don Sahong Dam is one of the projects planned for the lower Mekong River that is most debated by environmentalists because of its expected impact on fisheries.
The hydroelectric project will provide power for export to other countries in the region, as Laos seeks to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the dam will displace the local community in Don Sahong that relies on the river’s rich fisheries.
Traveling down the Mekong River
Copyright © 1998-2010 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.
Thursday, 30 September 2010 22:09 Will Baxter and Cheang Sokha
A hydropower dam proposed for Laos’ northern Xayabury province could have serious negative effects on fisheries, biodiversity and livelihoods downstream in Cambodia, a spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature has said.
“Cambodia will be one of the hardest hit countries from the construction of any, including Xayabury, of the proposed 11 lower Mekong mainstream dams,” said Marc Goichot, a senior adviser on sustainable infrastructure at WWF Greater Mekong.
“These impacts are potentially catastrophic, and can include riverbank erosion, impacting the riverside homes of millions of Cambodians.”
Laos notified the Mekong River Commission of its plan for the 1,260-megawatt dam on September 22.
Goichot’s assessment was far bleaker than that of Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, who acknowledged that the dam would “affect fish migration, but not very seriously”.
Helping rid the land of unexploded ordnance is one of the United States government’s top priorities in Laos
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 September 2010 23.00 BST
As the US chargé d’affaires in Vientiane, Laos, I read with great interest the recent articles by Melody Kemp (“The Casualties of Cluster Bombs Must Not Be Forgotten“) and Brett Dakin (“Laos and the Legacy of Vietnam“). Kemp implies that the United States has done little to assist in clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos – and nothing to aid Lao victims of UXO accidents. On the contrary, one of the US government’s top priorities in Laos has been – and is – the removal of unexploded ordnance. The United States remains Laos’s largest donor for UXO clearance and victim assistance.
To date, the United States has provided Laos with more than $51m in assistance to the Lao people for UXO clearance, support for victims and education. The United States began providing assistance to UXO victims in Laos in 1993, through the Leahy War Victims Fund (managed by the US Agency for International Development). In fact, USAID will provide more than $1.7m to Cope, the organisation mentioned in Kemp’s article, to fund a joint US-Lao comprehensive orthotics programme.
This fiscal year, the US state department will spend more than $5m in Laos on a range of UXO-related activities, including more than $3.5m to fund the mine and UXO clearance operations both of the Lao government’s own UXO clearance agency and of international clearance organisations operating in Laos. Lao national authorities coordinate these operations, which every year destroy many thousands of items of unexploded ordnance, returning land to safe and productive use.
The state department also provides financial assistance to support risk education, mostly aimed at school age children, in programmes developed by the Lao government and international NGOs, and victims’ assistance projects conducted by international NGOs with Lao medical centres. Brett Dakin may not be aware of it, but our department of agriculture has separately contributed over $11m towards UXO clearance since 2007 through programmes that combine supplementary school food provision with UXO clearance near those schools.
As demonstrated by our years of engagement and assistance, the United States is committed to help Laos achieve our shared goal of eliminating the threat posed by UXO to the people of Laos.