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March 20, 2014
The Cambodian government has reiterated calls for Laos to reconsider its construction of a dam on the Mekong River that critics say could have serious ecological and economic impacts on people living downstream.
The head of the government’s National Mekong Committee, Te Navuth, told a meeting in Phnom Penh an environmental assessment done by Laos is unclear on how fish would migrate, and so more studies are needed.
“The measure called ‘two paths for fish migration’ is not reliable by looking at the research documents and activities. There is no reliable data of fish population, but it comes from speculation,” he said.
Environmental groups worry the Don Sahong dam, to be built just upstream from Cambodia, could devastate fisheries that provide a major source of food for Cambodians living along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
Thailand and Vietnam have also called for Laos to halt the dam project.
NGO Forum executive director Teuk Vannara said the issue will be on the agenda of a regional meeting next month.
“Leaders from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thai will discuss and decide the fate of Don Sahong in their meeting in early April in Vietnam,” he said. “So we need to send our collective, final recommendations there.”
But Lao Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Somchit Inthamith, said this week that the dam is a vital, but environmentally friendly, energy project.
“We give top priority to the construction of hydropower dams because Laos has enormous potential in natural resources, especially rivers and streams, and we believe that hydropower dam development is more eco-friendly that other forms of energy development,” he said.
He also said the Lao government stands to earn $30 to 40 million a year when the dam is operational.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer and Lao services.