In a Bloomberg story published yesterday, the chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), Hans Guttman, is quoted as saying that ‘there is still an opportunity for coming to an agreement’ over issues connected to mitigating the impact on fisheries of the projected Don Sahong dam in southern Laos. Such an agreement, he appears to indicate, might be reached when the four MRC countries — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam — meet in Thailand later this month.
As I reported in March (Mekong: Laos confirms Don Sahong dam plans), Laos has previously indicated that it will begin construction of the dam in December.
There is little doubt about the opposition of Cambodia and Vietnam to the construction of Don Sahong; Thailand has been less vocal officially despite vigorous criticism from domestic NGOs. But it is difficult not to think that the MRC chief executive is putting the best possible interpretation on statements made by Lao government representatives, in particular the vice minister for energy, Viravong Viraphonh. Responding the queries put to him by Bloomberg, the minister said ‘Laos remains committed to exporting hydropower and becoming the battery of Southeast Asia’ and, most importantly in terms of likely future developments, that ‘We are confident that the proposed project will cause no significant impact to the full mainstream flow of the Mekong, nor will it affect fish migration or sediment passage to any degree that would harm downstream communities.’ It’s worth noting that Viravong Viraphonh has been at the heart of Laos’ Mekong policy for several years and played a key part in bringing the Xayaburi dam to the construction phase.
Is any of this deserving of the suggestion that the river could become ‘another South China Sea’? That is, a dispute which not only involves the countries along its course (which includes China) but also the US? This is a view recorded in the Bloomberg article, drawing on a CSIS paper published in April.
For the moment, this seems to be over-egging an already rich pudding, one with sufficient ingredients for tense relations along the river’s length. Whatever the judgment, it would seem more than likely that Laos will continue with its Don Sahong plans and that the threat to fish stocks will become a real and present issue.
The long delayed hydroelectric dam project spanning the Mekong River in Laos, being undertaken by Mega First Corporation Bhd, could finally kick off eight years after it was first mooted.
Bloomberg reported that four Mekong River nations are scheduled to meet June 26-27 in Thailand to discuss matters including Laos’ plan to build the Don Sahong dam.
Laos will push ahead with its ambition to become the “battery of Southeast Asia”, reported Bloomberg, despite the Mekong River dam drawing opposition from neighbours and threatens to involve China and the US.
The Mekong River’s length of about 3,000 miles flows through southern China, along the Laotian border with Myanmar and Thailand, and through sections of Laos. It then snakes its way through Cambodia and Vietnam until it empties into the South China Sea.
China, which opened its first dam on the Mekong about two decades ago, has seven dams along the waterway that are either in operation, under construction or planned, according to the Mekong River Commission.
Mega First, which undertook a feasibility study in 2006 and then agreed in 2008 to build and operate the Don Sahong dam, had said in April that construction of the dam is expected to start this year and finish in 2019.
It had originally forged a 70:30 joint venture with IJM Corporation Bhd, but the latter exited the partnership two years later in 2010 due to the prolonged delay.
“Laos remains committed to exporting hydropower and becoming the battery of Southeast Asia,” said Viraphonh Viravong, the country’s vice minister of energy and mines. “Hydropower is a natural choice for Laos.”
Being land-locked, “Laos believes it has few options to building up foreign exchange other than building dams and exporting electricity,” said Milton Osborne, a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/don-sahong-06062014164952.html
A fisherman catches fish on a channel west of the Khone Phapheng falls near the future Don Sahong dam site on the Mekong River, Nov. 10, 2013.
Ministers from four countries that share the Mekong River are set to discuss this month whether Laos should be required to consult its neighbors before moving ahead with a second controversial dam on the regional waterway, officials said Friday.
Laos’s planned Don Sahong dam will be on the agenda when the top council of the Mekong River Commission (MRC)—the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating use of water resources by Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam—meets in Thailand on June 26-27, MRC officials said.
Laos’s neighbors have raised concerns about the transboundary impact of the 260-megawatt project, which is to be built just north of the Cambodian border.
They insist it should be put through a formal consultation and technical assessment, while Laos has maintained it should go through MRC procedures that require Vientiane only to provide neighbors information about the project.
Following disagreement over the procedures at a lower-level MRC meeting in January, the water and environment ministers of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam who make up the MRC Council will take up the issue at this month’s meeting, an MRC communications officer told RFA.
“At the end of the MRC Joint Committee meeting in January, the four [countries] could not come to any agreement on whether this project should be part of the MRC’s Prior Consultation Process,” the officer said.
“The MRC Council will take a look at this.”
The dam is to be built on the Mekong’s Hou Sahong channel about one mile (2 kilometers) north of the Cambodian border in the Siphandone area where the Mekong splits into multiple braided channels.
If it goes forward it will be the second major dam on the Lower Mekong, following the Xayaburi dam that Laos has begun building over objections neighboring countries raised last year.
This month’s MRC Council meeting will not touch on the Xayburi project, according to an official from Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The topic of what MRC procedures Laos should follow for the Don Sahong was added to the agenda on the proposal of Vietnam, he said.
“We won’t talk about the Xayaburi dam anymore; we will talk about the Don Sahong. We will select this issue for the chairman to include in the agenda,” he told RFA.
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand have raised concerns that damming the Hou Sahong will have a greater impact than Laos has acknowledged, particularly on fish migration routes.
Laos says the project is not mainstream dam and will use only 15 percent of Mekong flows.
Hans Guttman, chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat, told Bloomberg News that compromises were possible during the MRC Council meeting.
“They could come to some understanding that they should do a limited investigation and joint work on how the impacts can be mitigated and how they would work with impacts on fisheries,” he said.
“There’s still an opportunity for coming to an agreement.”
Global green group International Rivers has called the Don Sahong a “ticking time bomb” for Mekong fish.
The project poses a regional security threat for the some 60 million people in Southeast Asia who rely on fish and other products from the river for their nutrition and their livelihoods, the group says.
Under MRC rules, member countries are required to engage in “notification” procedures for year-round intrabasin water-use projects and interbasin diversion projects on the Mekong’s tributaries, and for wet-season water use on the mainstream.
“Prior consultation” procedures—the ones Laos’s neighbors are calling for—apply to proposed water use projects on the mainstream in the dry season, diversion of water from the mainstream to other basins during the wet season, and diversion of surplus water to other basins in the dry season.
A third set of rules known as “specific agreement” procedures are required for projects diverting water from the mainstream to other basins in the dry season.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.