Save the Mekong, before it’s too late!

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November 19, 2012 1:00 am

Dear Mekong River Commission Member Countries, Secretariat and Development Partners,

The construction of Xayaburi Dam is proceeding despite the concerns of Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries. Laos and Thailand’s decision to proceed with the dam not only threatens the livelihoods of communities depending on the Mekong but also undermines the integrity of the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

The MRC – which has a responsibility to make “every effort to avoid, minimise and mitigate harmful effects that might occur” from development and use of the river – has remained silent, while regional cooperation and the future sustainability of the Mekong River moves towards the brink of collapse.

The Save the Mekong coalition demands that the MRC, its member countries and development partners take immediate action to stop all construction on Xayaburi Dam for these reasons:

In a May letter to the coalition, Hans Guttman, the MRC’s CEO, stated that under the prior consultation process, “the country proposing the project is required to take into account the rights and concerns of other member countries”. However, there has been no assessment of Xayaburi Dam’s transboundary impacts or further public consultations, as requested by Cambodia and Vietnam during the April 2011 Joint Committee meeting. To our knowledge, no agreement has been reached by the MRC to close the prior consultation process or to approve Xayaburi Dam, which means that construction should not be underway.

The project is also under review by three administrative decision-making bodies in Thailand for a violation of the Thai people’s constitutional rights.

Xayaburi Dam poses a major threat to people’s livelihoods, food security and the ecological integrity of the Mekong River. The MRC’s technical review of the project has warned that Xayaburi Dam could affect 23-100 fish species and potentially lead to the extinction of the iconic Mekong giant catfish.

Laos claims that Xayaburi Dam has been re-designed to address the concerns of neighbouring countries. Yet Laos has not studied the dam’s downstream impacts, nor has the final redesign of the project been made public or independently assessed. Instead, Laos has resorted to unsubstantiated and misleading claims by the Poyry Group that the dam will not have downstream impacts. Studies by the region’s leading scientists as well as the MRC have concluded that Poyry’s work lacks credibility. The true environmental and economic costs of the project are not yet known. The technologies proposed by Laos and Ppyry are unproven and have never been used successfully in the Mekong or any other tropical river.

The Mekong should not be used as a testing ground for unproven technologies. Xayaburi Dam developers must prove that they can meet the MRC’s preliminary design guidance measures, such as the requirement for a 95-per-cent fish passage effectiveness rate. Without any evidence of the effectiveness of mitigation measures, Xayaburi Dam is in violation of the agreed-upon Mekong standard and risks causing irreversible damage to the world’s largest inland fisheries.

Since 2009, the Save the Mekong coalition has been demanding regional governments to cancel plans to build hydropower dams on the Mekong River. The MRC must acknowledge the tens of thousands of people who have expressed concerns over Xayaburi Dam at the local, regional and international levels, through numerous letters, petitions and protests. The concerns that have been expressed by people dependent on the Mekong must be paramount in the dam’s decision-making process.

By moving forward without understanding the full implications of the project, reaching regional agreement, or even abiding by the preliminary design guidance measures, Xayaburi Dam is creating a dangerous precedent for decision-making over future Mekong mainstream development. This has called into question the purpose of the MRC. Xayaburi Dam’s “prior consultation” process has failed in its responsibility to the MRC and to the wider public.

Our demands

_ The Xayaburi Dam’s construction and power purchase agreement must be immediately suspended, as the dam does not fully comply with the 1995 Mekong Agreement;

_ Laos and Thailand must publicly release the final design of the dam and have it undergo an independent technical expert review commissioned by the MRC;

_ The MRC must immediately hold a regional public consultation in order to allow the public an opportunity to discuss Xayaburi Dam and the future of hydropower development on the Mekong River.

There has never been a more urgent time for the MRC to uphold its responsibilities and speak out against Xayaburi Dam. Before it’s too late, the MRC member countries must use the 21st Asean Summit to demand the suspension of Xayaburi Dam and uphold their commitments to protect the Mekong River and its people.

Save the Mekong coalition

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