Laos’s controversial Xayaburi dam is 30 per cent built, its government has told the Post.
Deputy Energy and Mines Minister Viraponh Viravong said the project – which Laos began work on without regional approval in November 2012 – remains on track to be functioning in 2019.
“The project is currently 30 percent complete, and proceeding on time and on budget,” Viravong said in an email.
The $3.8 billion dam, on the Mekong mainstream in the country’s north, is the first of about 10 dams Laos has planned for the river and which conservation groups warn will decimate Cambodia’s fish stocks.
But Viravong defended the dam, saying hydropower “is a natural choice for Laos”.
“It’s sustainable and can continue to bring benefits to our people for decades to come.”
Laos, Viravong added, has over the past 50 years “built an enviable record of achievement in developing environmentally and socially sustainable hydropower projects in accordance with our laws, decrees and globally accepted standards”.
But its government has been accused of being a law unto itself. When Laos broke ground on Xayaburi, fellow Mekong River Commission member states Cambodia and Vietnam were still asking it to assess potential trans-boundary effects. Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, Laos must have the blessing of its co-members before it can build on the mainstream.
Thailand, the fourth MRC member and the country set to buy most of Xayaburi’s electricity, has remained relatively quiet about the 1,285-megawatt dam – which is being built by Thai developer CH. Karnchang.
Viravong said Laos would continue with its hydropower vision out of “duty” to overcome poverty and said it had the World Bank on its side.
“The World Bank has recently underscored the wisdom of using large-scale hydropower projects to create renewable energy, spur economic growth and social progress, and alleviate poverty in the least developed countries.”
But a World Bank spokesperson in Cambodia yesterday said the bank did not support the Xayaburi dam. In 2010, the World Bank said it would not invest in or finance projects on Mekong’s mainstream.
Last May, the bank said it was recommitting to large-scale hydropower development in Southeast Asia, without mentioning the Mekong.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for conservation group International Rivers, said steps could still be taken to prevent Xayaburi from causing irreparable damage, but time “is running out”.
“There is still essentially one year left to stop the dam, as construction on the Xayaburi Dam’s final dam across the Mekong River will begin in February 2015,” she said.
“With the Mekong Summit approaching [next month], it’s critical that the Mekong countries rise up to their commitments and demand that Laos stop all further construction until … mitigation measures can be proven to work.”