Posts tagged ‘International Rivers’

June 27, 2014

Laos to Hear Out Mekong Neighbors on Hydro Project

Don Sahong dam runs into trouble

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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.


Laos to Hear Out Mekong Neighbors on Hydro Project

By Steve Herman

June 26, 2014 2:38 PM

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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.


A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
June 27, 2013

Laos Dams: Warning over Laos dam construction

Work to construct the yet-to-be-approved Don Sahong hydropower dam project continues to progress, posing a major threat to the livelihoods of families living on the Mekong, despite the fact a consultation into the scheme has not been carried out, it has been warned.

A Daring Fisherman Crosses Khone Falls in Southern Laos, the area in which the Don Sahong hydropower dam project is getting underway, even though the required public consultations are yet to be carried out. (Photo: International Rivers)

Environmental campaign group International Rivers visited the Don Sahong dam site last week in the Khone Falls area of Southern Laos, less than two kilometres upstream from the Laos-Cambodia border.

International Rivers claim that “numerous activities” are underway at the project site, even though the Laos government has not yet initiated the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) required consultation process, set out in the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

Ame Trandem, International Rivers’ Southeast Asia program director, said work to prepare for building the dam’s access roads and bridge has started. The actual construction of the roads and bridge is apparently scheduled to begin next year.

The group also raised concerns that work had begun on the project last September, when locals reported that dam builders had blasted a waterfall near the Don Sahong site.

Last week, villagers told International Rivers that construction on the Don Sahong dam’s bridge and access roads will begin in 2014, Ms Trandem said, adding that the dam’s developer, Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad, has hired local people to place markers indicating which land will be used for the bridge and roads.

The Don Sahong project is the second of 11 proposed hydropower dam schemes for the Mekong. Work on the first – the Xayaburi dam in Laos – began last year. Much of the electricity generated by the dams will be exported to Thailand.

International law and the Mekong Agreement prohibit one government from starting to implement projects on the river while the other affected governments are still evaluating proposals for any such scheme.

But International Rivers say developers began work at the Xayaburi dam site, signed the power purchase agreement with Thailand, and signed financing agreements with Thai banks, while discussions at the Mekong River Commission were still underway.

“It’s clear that the Don Sahong dam is following the same trajectory that the Xayaburi dam took, in which secrecy and illicit project implementation topples regional cooperation,” Ms Trandem said.  “Sadly, what is happening at Khone Falls is emblematic of the failure of the MRC to address the problems related to the Xayaburi dam.”

“The Xayaburi dam has set a dangerous precedent that undermines future regional cooperation and illustrates the need for urgent reform of the MRC’s prior consultation process before additional projects proceed.”

Activists claim the dams will hurt fisheries, agriculture and food security downstream in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, destroying the livlihoods of people who rely on the river as a source of food and income. No compensation will be provided to fishermen who can no longer use traditional fish traps.

“The Don Sahong dam would be an environmental calamity,” said Ms. Pianporn Deetes, International Rivers’ campaign coordinator for Thailand. “The project is aimed at increasing Mega First Corporation’s profits while exacerbating the already known and very serious impacts of the dam on regional fisheries and biodiversity.

“If built, the Don Sahong dam will inevitably and irreversibly block the only channel in the Khone Falls that fish can migrate upstream and downstream during the dry season, leading to predictably serious impacts on fish catches, species and the livelihoods of millions of people in the region.”

The Don Sahong dam will not only block the only channel in the Khone Falls area that allows for year-round fish migration, but also threatens one of the few remaining habitats of the already endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, she added.

Ms. Kumpin Aksorn from the Thai community organisation Hug Namkhong joined International Rivers on the site visit.

“The Mekong River’s fisheries do not stop at each country’s political boundaries. Projects affecting the river need to be decided on a regional basis,” she said. “The Don Sahong and other mainstream dams are foolhardy and dangerous, as they threaten to fundamentally change the nature of the river and its resources, which serves as the lifeblood for millions of people in the region.

“Before cross-border tensions grow, full public disclosure of the project’s environmental impact assessment is urgently required, as well as meaningful consultations with affected communities and neighboring countries.”

A report by the Mekong River Commission published last year found that the construction of 12 proposed dams in the lower Mekong River would cause serious problems for the two million people living downstream in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, because the dams would stop 55 per cent of the river from flowing freely.

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January 20, 2013

A River Trickles Through It: Laos’ Mekong Dam Draws Ire From Downstream Neighbors And Environmentalists


A River Trickles Through It: Laos’ Mekong Dam Draws Ire From Downstream Neighbors And Environmentalists

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BY Ryan Villarreal | January 19 2013 9:27 AM

Laos’ construction of a hydropower dam on the Mekong River has angered its downstream neighbors and raised concerns about the project’s social and environmental impacts.

Construction of the $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam began last November. It is the first of 11 projects the Laotian government plans to build along the lower portion of the river, which passes through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Laos has drawn criticism from its Southeast Asian neighbors for beginning construction on the Xayaburi Dam without completing the consultation process through the Mekong River Commission, or MRC, an inter-governmental agency comprised of representatives from the four countries that manages the usage and development of the river.

Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Hong Ha Tran spoke Wednesday at an MRC Council Meeting in Luang Prabang, Laos, and he questioned the wisdom of beginning the Xayaburi project before a thorough analysis of its impact was completed.

The launching of the first mainstream hydropower project recently in the Lower Mekong Basin is causing concerns of the governments of the riparian [river-adjacent] countries in the region and the international community about its adverse impacts on downstream areas,” he said.

“While we are still trying to do the research to understand its impacts, each riparian country should show their responsibility by assuring that any future development and management of water resources proposed in the basin should be considered with due care and full precaution based on best scientific understanding of the potential impacts,” he added.

Vietnam has demanded that Laos halt construction on the Xayaburi dam, pending the completion of an environmental impact review agreed upon by the MRC in December 2011.

The MRC Development Partners, which is comprised of donor governments — including the U.S., Japan, Germany and France — that have invested in the Mekong River’s management, released a joint statement expressing concern about any damming of the river’s main channel, upon which the Xayaburi damn is being built.

“It is our consensus that building dams on the mainstream of the Mekong may irrevocably change the river and hence constitute a challenge for food security, sustainable development and biodiversity conservation,” the statement read, according to a press release from International Rivers, a global NGO that advocates for the conservation and sustainable development of river systems.

Extensive research has already shown that dams are extremely disruptive to river ecosystems and riparian communities on multiple levels.

Damming prevents fish migrations, which downstream communities depend on for food. It also prevents rivers from transporting sediments, “which are critical for maintaining physical processes and habitats downstream of the dam (including the maintenance of productive deltas, barrier islands, fertile floodplains and coastal wetlands),” according to International Rivers.

This has negative implications for farmland and fresh water wells used by communities along river systems.

While these impacts are being considered with the Xayaburi Dam, Laos is relatively free to continue construction unhindered. Under the statutes of the MRC, Laos is obligated to hold consultations with member governments on such projects, but members have no legal framework to prevent it from moving forward with any given one.

“In the absence of an agreement, other countries can disagree if they like, but this can’t stop Laos,” said Jian-hua Meng, a specialist in sustainable hydropower at the World Wildlife Fund, the Guardian reported. “The role of the MRC is now being questioned along with the level of investment put in the organization.”

November 5, 2012

Laos to start construction of controversial Mekong mega dam

Laos to start construction of controversial Mekong mega dam

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AFP | Nov 5, 2012, 06.28PM IST

VIENTIANE: Laos on Monday said it would start construction of a controversial multi-billion dollar dam this week, after adapting the design to calm environmental concerns from neighbouring nations.

“After two years of preparation the Laos government will have a ground breaking ceremony on November 7 and will then start working on the dam itself in the Mekong river this week,” deputy energy minister Viraphonh Viravong told AFP.

The $3.8 billion hydroelectric project at Xayaburi, led by Thai group CH Karnchang, has sharply divided the four Mekong nations — Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand — who rely on the river system for fish and irrigation.

Building work on the main project has been stalled for about 18 months over concerns relating to its environmental impact.

Viraphonh said some aspects of the dam’s design had been changed to “reassure neighbouring countries”, but he insisted that objections would not derail plans to finish the project by the end of 2019.

The mooted 1,260 megawatt dam, the first of 11 on the key waterway, has become a symbol of the potential risks of hydropower projects in the region.

Communist Laos, one of the world’s most under-developed nations, believes the dam will help it become “the battery of Southeast Asia” by selling electricity to its richer neighbours.

Thailand has agreed to buy most of the electricity generated by the project, but Cambodia and Vietnam fear the dam could decimate their farming and fishing industries.

Environmentalists say the dam would be disastrous for the 60 million people who depend on the river for transportation, food and economy.

They fear Mekong fish species will become endangered as vital nutrients are trapped and dozens of species are prevented from swimming upstream to mating grounds.

In July, Viraphonh told the state-run Vientiane Times that it would be “one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world”, but promised that construction would not go ahead until fears from neighbouring countries had been assuaged.

He said changes to the project would address the two major issues — fish migration and sediment flow — by including a passage to allow 85 percent of fish to travel along the river and a “flushing system” to prevent sediment build-up.

Campaign group International Rivers accused the Laos government of pressing ahead with the project without conducting sufficient environmental studies.

“This latest announcement shows that Laos never intended to genuinely cooperate with neighbouring countries,” the group said on Monday. “The Xayaburi project was never really delayed and always continued on schedule.”

Fifty Thai villagers representing communities along the Mekong river submitted a lawsuit to a court in Bangkok in August seeking to prevent their country buying power from the hydropower project.

Thailand’s Administrative Court has yet rule on the suit, which is against the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the energy ministry and the Thai cabinet.

June 29, 2012

Ch. Karnchang Plows Forward with Xayaburi Dam Construction

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Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For Immediate Release

Bangkok, Thailand – A recent investigation of the Xayaburi Dam site by International Rivers revealed that Thai company Ch. Karnchang has already undertaken significant resettlement and construction activities, contrary to claims that only preliminary work is underway.

Despite Ch. Karnchang’s recent statements that it will comply with the Lao government’s commitment to postpone construction until there is regional agreement, International Rivers found construction activities underway during a visit last week to the dam site and 15 affected villages. Recent activities include dredging to deepen and widen the riverbed at the dam site, the construction of a large concrete retaining wall, and an increase in the company’s local labor force. One village, Houay Souy, was already resettled from the dam’s planned spillway to near Xayaboury town in January 2012.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said, “By proceeding with resettlement and construction on the Xayaburi Dam, Ch. Karnchang has blatantly defied the diplomatic process underway to decide on the future of the Mekong River. The company has violated the trust of the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, with apparent impunity.”

On June 2, Mr. Aswin Kongsiri, Chairperson of the Ch. Karnchang Board of Directors told the Bangkok Post that “the Lao government will ultimately make the final decision on whether the project will go ahead, but we want to wait for all stakeholders in the Greater Mekong Subregion to agree with it.” Mr. Aswin indicated that the company had not yet started construction, stating “we have thus focused on project preparation, mainly financing and the environmental impact report.”  These claims came weeks after the Lao government publicly announced that dam construction had been postponed and only “preliminary construction” such as building access roads had taken place.

“So far, Ch Karnchang claims that they are only going forward with ‘preliminary construction’ on the project, but the definition of ‘preliminary’ keeps expanding,” said Kirk Herbertson, Mekong Campaigner for International Rivers. “Ripping up the riverbed and resettling entire villages cannot be considered a preliminary activity.”

Interviews with resettled families from Houay Souy revealed a series of broken promises made by Ch. Karnchang. Resettled households have yet to receive new agricultural land and have been required to spend much of their own compensation money to finish building the houses that were provided to them. Ch. Karnchang also reneged on a promise to provide one year of free electricity and water. Instead villagers were provided only one month free. The company has informed other villages that they will be moved as soon as December 2012, but said they will not compensate the villagers for the loss of fisheries, access to agricultural land, gold panning, and other major sources of food and income, in violation of Lao law.

Teerapong Pomun, Director of Thai NGO Living River Siam, who joined the trip to the dam site, said, “Even at this early stage, the Xayaburi Dam is causing harm to local people and the environment. Ch. Karnchang needs to be held accountable for its irresponsible and illegal behavior. It’s only a matter of time before the damage to the river’s ecosystem and fisheries begins to impact downstream countries like Thailand, something the company has failed to even take into account.”

On June 28-29, the governments of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) will meet with development partners in Vientiane, Laos for the MRC’s Informal Donor Meeting 2012. The issue of the Mekong mainstream dams is expected to be on the agenda.

“Ch. Karnchang’s ongoing construction activities are creating conflict among the Mekong countries,” said Mr. Herbertson. “No construction should be allowed that places future cooperation along the Mekong River in jeopardy. It’s time for the Thai and Lao governments to hold firm to their commitments and require Ch. Karnchang to respect the diplomatic process.”

In addition to Ch. Karnchang’s role, Thailand has close links to the Xayaburi Dam. The project is being financed by Thai commercial banks. An estimated 95% of the dam’s electricity would be sold to Thailand. In July, communities from eight Thai provinces along the Mekong River are expected to bring a lawsuit against the Thai government for signing an agreement to purchase the dam’s electricity in violation of their constitutional rights.

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