Construction resumes on controversial Mekong dam project in Laos

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Last Updated: 15 hours 10 minutes ago

Construction has resumed on a controversial dam in the lower Mekong River in Laos, despite an agreement to suspend the project.

The $US1.7 billion Xayaburi dam project in northern Laos was put on hold last year, after concerns it could disrupt the river downstream.

Laos’ government agreed to conduct further studies into the impact of the dam, after pressure from neighbouring Mekong countries.

With work resuming, Cambodia has reportedly threatened to take Laos to an international court, although it’s unclear which one.

The Director of the Australian Mekong Resource Centre, Professor Philip Hirsch, has told Radio Australia the resumption of work signals a change in relations between the Mekong countries.

“What has changed is the signalling by one country that it may be prepared to go ahead unilaterally, despite the agreement and despite the studies that are being conducted by the four countries,” he said.

“To date, there has been no discussion of legal action by one country against another.”

He says the agreement to halt construction is a “loose agreement” at best.

“The body that administers it, the Mekong River Commission, has no teeth.”

The project is owned by a Thai company, and 90 per cent of the electricity produced by the dam would be sent to Thailand.

Mr Hirsch says despite this, some in Thailand are still opposed to the project.

“Including the large number of people who live along the Mekong River, which borders Laos and Thailand, who are concerned about their own lives and livelihoods.”

Observers had hoped the agreement was a sign that the Mekong nations were moving towards a more cooperative and sustainable approach to managing the river.

 

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