Jun 27, 2014 12:07 AM ET|
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-27/laos-agrees-to-more-scrutiny-on-mekong-dam-after-calls-for-delay.html
Laos agreed to open a proposed hydropower project along the Mekong River to further scrutiny from neighboring countries, after Vietnam previously called for a delay in developing the dam.
The Don Sahong hydropower project, which had been submitted under a procedure known as notification, will now instead undergo a process known as prior consultation, giving member nations the opportunity to address any harmful effects on the environment, according to the Mekong River Commission, which works with member nations to promote sustainable development of the Southeast Asian artery.
“This shows some willingness to work together with other member countries, but I’m not sure if one can read too much into the change in language,” said Phuong Nguyen, a research associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This may be partly an attempt to work with other member countries and partly rhetorical, as long as Laos doesn’t have any other significant economic alternatives to dam-building,” Nguyen said in a telephone interview.
The Lao government said in a statement at a meeting yesterday of the commission’s council in Bangkok that it is committed to developing the Don Sahong project in a “responsible and sustainable manner” and that hydropower development is a top priority and key to stimulating the Lao economy.
‘On the Record’
“The change from notification to prior consultation means that everything we have put on the table will be put on the record,” the Lao government said in the statement. “The prior consultation process will formalize our exchange of ideas, and further demonstrates the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s pledge to work openly and in close cooperation with member countries and development partners.”
Malaysia’s Mega First (MFCB) Corp. agreed in 2008 to build and operate Don Sahong and said in April that construction of the dam is expected to start this year and finish in 2019. Vietnam’s government in April called for a delay in construction until at least the end of 2015 and said this month it would “carefully study” the environmental impact of the Don Sahong project.
The prior consultation process “ allows the other member countries to bring forward in a more formal manner their concern,” said Hans Guttman, the chief executive of the Mekong River Commission secretariat, speaking to journalists late yesterday in Bangkok after a meeting of the commission. “Much like in the Xayaburi case, it is still a sovereign decision by a member country whether they go ahead with a project or not.”
The Xayaburi hydropower project, which is in northwestern Laos, went through the prior consultation process before construction began. Thailand’s Ch. Karnchang (CK) Pcl, which has a stake in Xayaburi, said in March it has accelerated construction and there has been “substantial progress.”
In a 2011 filing on Xayaburi, Vietnam’s government said that the “limited timeframe of the prior consultation was not adequate to facilitate the achievement of the process’s objectives,” and asked for the project to be postponed for at least 10 years.
“Upstream hydropower development, especially the mainstream cascade, will present serious threats to the Mekong Delta, in particular saline intrusion, reduced fisheries and agricultural productivities, and degradation of bio-diversity,” Vietnam’s government said in the 2011 submission on Xayaburi.
The Don Sahong dam would be built in the far south of Laos, near the country’s border with Cambodia. The plan calls for the construction of a 260-megawatt power station, with the majority of energy generated to be exported and Thailand and Cambodia the primary target markets, according to a 2013 environmental impact assessment posted on the river commission’s website.
The commission will await a communication from Laos on switching to the prior consultation process, and a working group will be established with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, according to Guttman, who said the prior consultation procedures don’t clearly stipulate whether field work can proceed during the process and that member countries would likely raise the issue with Laos.
“It appears that the Lao government has half-blinked at the Bangkok meeting, but will be able to continue work on the Don Sahong site,” said Milton Osborne, a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
Thailand appreciates Laos’s decision to switch to the prior consultation process, which normally takes at least six months, said Chote Trachu, Thailand’s permanent secretary for natural resources and environment.
“Laos told us they won’t start” construction during the process, Chote told reporters in Bangkok late yesterday. “Still, there is no clear rule on that.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tony Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/417416/don-sahong-dam-runs-into-trouble
Thailand will reaffirm at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting today that Laos’ Don Sahong hydro-power dam project must undergo a consultation process of member states before Vientiane can move ahead with its construction.
Chote Trachoo, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, who heads the Thai team at the meeting, said Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are concerned the dam could have an adverse ecological impact on the Mekong River.
A transboundary impact assessment of the river and its surrounding environment will be needed before Laos can start the project, he said.
Don Sahong dam is Laos’ second planned hydro-power dam project after the controversial Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River which borders the four countries.
Laos last year signalled its intention to develop the Don Sahong hydro-power dam project in the Siphandone area in the southern part of the country through the MRC’s ordinary notification process, arguing the project will be built on one of the river tributaries and not on the main river itself.
However, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand disagreed with it, saying the project should undergo a more extensive “prior consultation process” by member states of the MRC, as the potential for impacts was significant.
An agreement could not be reached by the four countries and the issue has been left for the MRC council to decide.
Speculation is rife that a decision might be made at the MRC ministerial meeting in Bangkok today.
The 260 mega-watt Don Sahong dam project is about two times the size of Pak Moon dam in Thailand.
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are concerned the dam will block fish migration in the Mekong River, which is an important natural habitat for a large number of fish.
Some environmentalists said that the dam, if built, will destroy the ecological system of the Mekong River.
Pianporn Deetes, of the International Rivers group, said the MRC must protect the Mekong River’s conservation by considering the impacts which the dam will have on the river.
Any decision must be made based on a clear study on transboundary impacts and the people’s participation.
Meanwhile, Save the Mekong Coalition yesterday said immediate action should be taken to cancel construction of Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams.
Construction of Xayaburi dam is already underway.
By Steve Herman
June 26, 2014 2:38 PM
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.voanews.com/content/article/1945700.html
Laos has informed members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that it intends to move ahead with construction of the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam but consider project modifications based on concerns of neighboring countries.
In a change of stance, Lao government officials recently said they will cooperate with the MRC and development partners before advancing the large and controversial project.
Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project.
Laos previously insisted the hydroelectric dam’s placement — on a braid of the Mekong and not on the mainstream — meant the project proposal needn’t comply with the commission’s formal prior-consultation process.
MRC Chief Executive Officer Hans Guttman told reporters his secretariat will facilitate the process, but that Laos could simply ignore objections because “there is no formal democratic process.”
“It does allow for a more formal consideration of the potential consequences and allows the Lao government then to take that in consideration if that would be the case,” he said. “But the process in itself does not necessarily say that we vote on the issue in the end.”
Chote Trachu, Thailand’s permanent secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources, says his government appreciates Laos’s shift to more inclusive consultation process.
The International Rivers non-governmental organization calls the change “an opportunity for neighboring countries to have a voice in whether or not the project is built.” But in the meantime, the group says, Laos “should stop all construction at the site of the Don Sahong dam” so a true project assessment can be conducted.
Many environmental groups contend the hydroelectric project would destroy the river’s ecological system by blocking migration of fish.
Laos says it will continue work already started to improve channels in the project area to aid fish migration.
There is also substantial concern about the construction already progressing on another Mekong dam in Laos: The Xayaburi dam, financed by commercial banks in Thailand, is intended to produce about 1,300 megawatts of electricity, nearly all of it to be purchased by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).
Last week, a consortium of conservation groups, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), sent a letter to the junta which now holds all executive and legislative power in Thailand asking for it to suspend or cancel the power purchase agreement for the dam.
The appeal calls the project “one of the potentially most damaging dams currently under construction anywhere in the world,” and one that “constitutes the greatest trans-boundary threat to date [regarding] food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the lower Mekong River basin.”
Cambodia and Vietnam have also objected to the Xayaburi project.
Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court this week agreed to consider a lawsuit against the dam’s power purchase agreement.
International Rivers on Thursday hailed the court’s move as “a clear indication of the adverse trans-boundary impact the Xayaburi Dam is likely to have on the Mekong River’s ecosystem and people, despite earlier claims made by the Lao government that the project would be sustainable.”
The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, originating in the mountains of Qinghai province in China.
The lower Mekong basin supports nearly 60 million people. The river’s fish are an important source of protein consumed by that population. And the sediment and nutrients at the river’s mouth are critical for Vietnam’s productivity in the delta.
There are plans to construct a total of 12 hydro-power projects on the lower sections of the Mekong’s mainstream. Proponents say the projects are critical for economic development in the booming region and will help alleviate poverty.
1997 UN Watercourse Convention to Enter into Force
Vietnam has ratified a United Nations treaty on transboundary rivers, and it is time for other Mekong countries to do the same.
On May 19, Vietnam became the 35th country to ratify the 1997 UN Convention on Non-navigational uses of International Watercourses (UNWC). This is an important global milestone because the treaty required 35 ratifications to enter into force. It will now come into effect on August 17, 2014.
Vietnam’s decision also sends an important message to the Mekong region. While the Mekong River is already governed by an international treaty – the 1995 Mekong Agreement – it has been wrongfully misinterpreted at times by Laos and other governments in the region as meaningless and unbinding.
The UNWC sets out the rules for how governments are expected to share transboundary rivers in a fair way, balancing the rights of upstream and downstream governments. These rules come from decades of international practice across the world. Using various mechanisms such as prior consultations, these rules provide a way to resolve the tensions that can arise when an upstream governments wants to use the river in a way that potentially causes significant harm to downstream governments.
In other words, the UNWC provides a possible way around the gridlock facing the Mekong River Commission.
Indeed, the Mekong Agreement is explicitly based on the draft UNWC. When the Mekong Agreement was drafted, the governments took almost all of the language directly from the text that would later become the UNWC. Unfortunately, the Mekong River Commission has stepped away from using the UNWC as a beacon for how to interpret the Mekong Agreement. If you examine the international law underlying the words that were carefully chosen to be included in the Mekong Agreement, the treaty’s requirements are clear. However if one ignores the underlying international law, as the MRC has done at times, then the treaty appears ambiguous and open to the misinterpretations that have been offered by Laos.
What this means in practice has become alarmingly apparent through the handling of the Xayaburi Dam, the first project to be submitted by Laos to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) for Prior Consultation (PNPCA) under the Mekong Agreement. Instead of responding to the requests from neighboring countries to conduct further studies, Laos moved forward unilaterally with the Xayaburi Dam, beginning construction while Cambodia and Vietnam continued to voice strong concerns about the transboundary impacts. By November 2012, the implementation of the project had advanced so far that Cambodia and Vietnam had little remaining leverage to raise concerns. And yet there has still been no official resolution to the PNPCA process.
Xayaburi Dam has set a dangerous precedent for future cooperation in the Mekong, which urgently needs to be addressed, particularly given the rapid progress towards construction of the Don Sahong Dam. While the 1995 Agreement aims to create an even playing field for upstream and downstream countries, in practice Laos continues to misinterpret the Mekong Agreement and international law, demonstrating a lack of real commitment to shared regional interests.
Vietnam has been steadfast in raising concerns about the impacts of both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams. During the PNPCA process for the Xayaburi Dam, Vietnam called for a moratorium on all dam building on the Mekong River for a period of 10 years, as recommended by the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. However, despite steadily voicing concern within the consultation process and now calling for the Don Sahong Dam to also undergo Prior Consultation, Vietnam has been hindered by regional politics and delicate diplomatic relationships as well as perceived ambiguities in the 1995 Mekong Agreement.
By ratifying the UNWC, Vietnam is making a public call for change, for improved governance and more equitable decision-making in the Mekong, and sending an important message that international rivers must be managed by and for all riparian nations, not just one.
At the second MRC Summit held in Ho Chi Minh City in April, the Prime Minister of Vietnam urged Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to also sign on to the Convention. We hope that the Lower Mekong countries will follow Vietnam’s example for the sake of the Mekong River, its future and the people who depend on it. Through this action, Vietnam has offered a fair and equitable solution to the Mekong conflict. We hope that the other countries will listen.
- For more information on the UN Watercourse Convention’s entry into force see a series of blogs by International Water Law Policy
- WWF Factsheet – All you need to know about the UN Watercourse Convention
Mekong Program Associate
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- Vietnam Leading the Way for Improved Transboundary Water Governance – June 18, 2014
- Don Sahong Site Visit No Substitute for Regional Consultation – March 18, 2014
- Science Takes a Backseat as Xayaburi Dam Continues – December 15, 2013
- Environmental Concerns Prompt Vietnam to Cancel Two Dams – October 8, 2013
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Laos is proceeding with construction at the site of the controversial Don Sahong Dam despite opposition from neighboring governments and ongoing calls for a delay period and regional consultation, an environmental group revealed today.
A visit to the site earlier this month by International Rivers (IR) confirmed fears that the Don Sahong project is following “the same dangerous trajectory” taken with the Xayaburi Dam in Laos, with construction work on infrastructure taking place before neighboring countries have had a chance to undergo prior consultation, before impact assessments are finalized, and before the project’s far reaching impacts in the Mekong region are understood, according to a press release from IR.
“Continued construction towards the Don Sahong Dam is an unwelcome déjà vu for Mekong communities and governments as Laos continues to move forward unilaterally with decisions which threaten the entire region,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for IR.
“The risks go well beyond the borders of Laos. The Don Sahong Dam will irreversibly impact livelihoods and food security throughout the Mekong. Yet Laos remains unwilling to respect the requests of neighboring countries for construction to halt while trans-boundary impact studies and further consultation can be carried out,” she said.
Don Sahong villagers were informed last November that they would be resettled to make way for the dam, but have been given no further information regarding the move. Fishing has also been banned on the Hou Xang Pheuak Channel to allow Mega First Corporation, a Malaysian company, to work on creating a fish passage, but no compensation or alternative source of income has been provided for families whose livelihoods had depended on fish from the river, according to IR.
Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand — the other three members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) — have clearly stated that the Don Sahong Dam must undergo prior consultation, as required under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, to which Laos is a signatory.
The three countries have submitted letters to the Lao government and also reiterated their requests at a special MRC meeting in January. At the 2nd Mekong Summit in Ho Chi Minh City in April, Vietnam and Cambodia strengthened their objections by calling on Laos to halt all construction of dams on the Mekong mainstream for a 10-year period until further studies could be completed.
Te Navuth, Secretary General of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said yesterday via email that “Laos has rejected the request from other MRC member states…and has claimed that the construction will start by the end of 2014”.
“This is already a violation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” he said, adding that Laos should “halt the project and…start with a consultation process with the MRC member countries”.
Cambodia has also voiced concerns regarding “the possible impact of this Don Sahong project” downstream, including damage to livelihoods, and has urged Laos to “further extend the assessment” to include a trans-boundary Environmental Impact Assessment in Cambodia, said Navuth.
“Under international law, downstream countries are entitled to robust consultation,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for IR. “It’s time for Laos to respect the rights of its neighboring countries by accepting a 10-year deferment period and allowing for joint decision making based on science and consultation over the future of the shared Mekong.”
Pianporn Deetes endorsed this view. “Laos must recognize and accept that the Mekong is a shared river, and decisions must be made jointly among Lower Mekong countries, to preserve the future of this irreplaceable resource,” she said.
“The MRC Member Countries couldn’t reach a conclusion on a process for the Don Sahong Project, which was discussed at the MRC Joint Committee meeting in January,” said Surasak Glahan, a spokesman for the MRC Secretariat, via email. “The four countries had divergent views on the process for the project and agreed that the issue be discussed and decided by the MRC Council.”
The Council is scheduled to meet on June 26 and will issue a press release on the outcome of the discussion, he added.