Laos never ordered work on Xayaburi Dam to stop: Official

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Friday, 17 August 2012 14:51, Mizzima News

The construction site of the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River in Laos.
Photo: International Rivers / flickr

The Thai developer of the US$ 3.5 billion Xayaburi hydropower dam in Laos says the Laotian government never sent a formal letter asking it to stop construction of the dam, which has prompted  serious concerns from Cambodia and Vietnam that it will damage the ecology and livlihood of the region.

On July 13, the Laotian government said work had stopped after neighbors’ Cambodia and Vietnam said the 1,285-megawatt dam would harm the economy along the river and damage the fishery, which is heavily relied upon as a food source.

“We are still working on the project. We haven’t received a formal letter from the Lao government that we should suspend or put the project on hold,” Plew Trivisvavet, the chief executive Officer at Thailand’s Ch Karnchang Pcl, told reporters, according to a Reuters news agency article on Thursday.

The government of Laos made no immediate comment regarding the report.

The dam would be the first along the main stream of the Mekong in Southeast Asia.

The Mekong River Commission, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, have said that member governments agreed to approach the Japanese government and other international development partners to further study the dam’s implications before giving Laos the go-ahead to continue construction.

Plew said Ch Karnchang, the dam’s main contractor, expects to begin construction of a reservoir at the site later this year. “We have entered the area for some relocation work and to prepare for the construction of the reservoir,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam News Service (VNS) on Thursday said Vietnamese experts have again called for a moratorium on dam building on the Mekong River, saying the lives of as many as 60 million people could be adversely impacted by the dams.

Two key economic sectors in Vietnam’s fertile Mekong Delta, would suffer critical losses in rice and seafood production, said conservationists.

Dr. Dao Trong Tu, a former member of the Viet Nam Mekong River Committee, said the river runs across six countries, and that dams on its upper reaches would have harmful impacts on a vast area of the river basin.

Daniel King, Southeast Asia Legal Director of Earth Rights International, said there was a need to strengthen regional institutions to improve implementation of a common legal framework on exploitation of the river, according to VNS.

“In addition to making findings and recommendations on the environmental and social impacts of the 11 dams, the Mekong River Committee should identify critical shortcomings that should be addressed prior to any dam construction on mainstream Mekong,” he said.

It is the first of 11 dams planned in the lower Mekong that are projected to generate 8 percent of energy-hungry Southeast Asia’s power by 2025.

The proposed 11 dams would turn 55 per cent of the river into reservoirs, resulting in estimated agricultural losses of more than $500 million a year and cutting the average protein intake of Thai and Lao people by 30 per cent, according to a study by the Mekong River Commission.

China has completed four dams on the upper river, closer to its source. Activists say they were responsible for a 2010 drought that sent lower Mekong water levels to their lowest in half a century.

Ch Karnchang’s 50 per cent-owned subsidiary, Xayaburi Power Co, has received a 29-year concession contract from the Laotian government to operate the dam’s power plant.

Xayaburi Power said it will sell the power to state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the country’s sole power distributor, in 2019, Plew said, adding Ch Karnchang anticipated revenue of about 4 billion baht ($127 million) from the project this year.

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