Posts tagged ‘Mekong dams’

April 14, 2014

Mekong River at risk as Laos forges ahead with dam-building spree

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Mekong River at risk as Laos forges ahead with dam-building spree 

Monday, April 14, 2014 16:35
The Challenge Program on Water and Food- (CPWF) Mekong dams database provides the locations of every known commissioned, under-construction and planned dam in the Mekong River Basin
Construction of a giant controversial dam in Laos has been well underway since it began in late 2012. Laos is also set to push ahead with a second hydropower dam on the Mekong River this year in the face of growing concerns among its neighbors.
Opponents of these projects said their commencement would also kick off the construction of the 9 other dams planned by Laos on the lower reaches of the 4,900-kilometer (3,045-mile)-long Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity. The river begins in the Tibetan plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.
Regional leaders have continued to beat the drum of safeguarding the mighty river, but in reality, the rhetoric has been more prominent than action, environmental activists say.
They say that although it is still not too late to put a brake on the damming frenzy and devise a plan to promote the sustainable development of the Mekong, success in doing so would hinge on the political will of governments to make scientifically sound decisions before forging ahead with any more dam construction.
But apparently, “powerful commercial interests have been allowed to ransack the Mekong River’s rich resources by building damaging hydropower dams which have yet to demonstrate proven and effective mitigation measures,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers, a California-based environmental group.
In November 2012, Laos broke ground on the US$3.8-billion Xayaburi dam project despite vehement objections from environmental groups and its neighbors who said the 810-meter (2,600ft) dam would unleash massive ecological changes on a river that feeds around 60 million people.
A technical review released in March 2011 by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – a regional body established to coordinate dam projects on the river – on the Xayaburi dam is considered the most comprehensive analysis of its potential impact. It warns that more than 50 studies are still required before regional governments reach a consensus over whether the Xayaburi and other Mekong mainstream dams should be built.
But last September, Laos notified the MRC that it would forge ahead with the second dam, the Don Sahong, on the lower Mekong, despite calls from foreign donors to consult neighbors that face a trans-boundary impact on fisheries and the risk of deprived livelihoods.
A regional summit that ended recently in Vietnam dismayed environmental activists who had hoped for tougher stance against the dam-building binge.
“While [we are] pleased that Mekong leaders recognize the negative environmental and social impacts that hydropower development poses to the mainstream, we are disappointed that leaders did not condemn the current rush of dam building on the Mekong mainstream,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said in a statement issued after the Mekong River Commission summit wrapped up April 5 in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Words without actions are meaningless,” Trandem said. “The Lao government must stop its free reign of Mekong mainstream dam building.”
Business as usual
Viraphonh Viravong, Laos’s deputy energy minister, confirmed to Thanh Nien News that the Xayaburi project is now around 30 percent complete and construction on the Don Sahong dam would begin at a site less than 2 km away from the Cambodian border in December this year.
Landlocked Laos, looking to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting the vast majority of its power – mostly to Thailand, has promoted the Xayaburi dam as a potential source of income and investment that will spur its small economy.
“The Lao government sees hydropower as something of a silver bullet to lift the country out of poverty and genuinely believes there is no alternative,” Philip Hirsch, director of the Australian Mekong Resource Center at the University of Sydney, told Thanh Nien News.
But given that the power to be produced by the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam is quite small, experts say an important question, in this context, is which are the more and less damaging sites for dam construction.
“Building a dam that blocks the major fish migration route in the model of one of the world’s most significant artisanal freshwater fisheries does not seem like a very sensible priority,” Hirsch said.
Environmental groups warn that the impacts posed by the Don Sahong dam bring a new level of risk to the biodiversity of the Mekong River, threatening to block the only channel of the Mekong that currently allows for year-round fish migrations on a large scale, while also wiping out one of the last pools of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
Viraphonh shrugged off such concerns.
“We are very confident that there will be no significant impact on the downstream of the river,” Viraphonh said, adding that Laos hired a number of independent experts to review the feasibility studies on these dam projects.
But those in the opposing camp do not buy into this assurance.
They say these claims are based on models which have never been tested in the Mekong, and there are doubts as to whether they could be successful on such a large scale.
“The stakes are high and continuing to build Mekong dams through a trial and error approach is reckless and irresponsible,” Trandem of International Rivers said. “The Mekong is too valuable for risky experiments.”
‘Right to develop’
Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia are bound by a 1995 Mekong treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before building dams. But none has a veto, and Laos will have the final say, though considerable diplomatic pressure can be exerted on it.
Laos and its neighbors – particularly Vietnam and Cambodia – have been at odds over the decision-making stage, or the prior consultation process, of the Don Sahong project.
While Laos maintains it only needs to notify its neighbors of its intent to build the dam because it is located neither in the tributary nor on the mainstream of the Mekong, the other two countries demand that the consultation process take place to decide over whether to build the dam, citing its trans-boundary impacts.
Vietnam and Cambodia reiterated their position at the Mekong River Commission summit on April 5.
Viraphonh, the Lao energy official, bristled at criticism that his country has provided no information to its neighbors about how it plans to address the serious impacts that experts expect to see on important migratory fishes species, saying Laos has nothing to hide.
He maintained that for a small project like Don Sahong, only notification would be needed. But, more importantly, he stressed that “Laos [also] needs to develop and for the right to develop, [we] don’t need a consensus or agreement [to go ahead].”
A Cambodian fisherman who lives by the Mekong River casts his net outside Phnom Penh. Regional leaders have continued to beat the drum of safeguarding the mighty Mekong River, but in reality, the rhetoric has been more prominent than action, environmental activists say. Photo: Reuters 
Muddy the Mekong water
Addressing an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Russia in 2012, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang called for sustainable exploitation of the Mekong River, saying nations could soon get embroiled in conflicts over access to water.
“It would not be over-exaggerating… to view the water resources of the 21st century as the oil of the 19th and 20th centuries,” Sang said.
Environmental activists say Laos’s “unilateral” move to plow ahead with the construction of two controversial dams highlights the urgency to give the 1995 Mekong Agreement more teeth.
“Because the [treaty] and its procedures are riddled with ambiguities, the Mekong River faces a dangerous trajectory, in which unilateral interests are hijacking regional cooperation and well-being,” said Pianporn of International Rivers.
Meanwhile, experts have lamented that China’s dam-building spree in both Southeast Asia – in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar – and at home is threatening to have a serious impact on the lower Mekong.
International Rivers, a US-based nonprofit group that works to protect rivers, has been collecting information on China’s global role in dam building since 2008.
In Southeast Asia alone, it said, the number of Chinese dams that are under construction or are proposed include 10 in Cambodia, 26 in Laos, and 55 in Myanmar. Of them, four are to be built on the mainstream Mekong – three in Laos and one in Cambodia.
In the meantime, China’s upstream dams continue to cause worry due to the lack of information about their water flows, development plans, cumulative environmental impacts, and trans-boundary impacts. China has constructed or planned to build a total of 13 dams on the cascade.
Given the scale and size of these dams, experts say there are certainly other environmental impacts like withholding sediment and changed flow volumes and quantity on the lower Mekong.
They also say there are well-grounded fears that China could capitalize on the lack of political agreement there to gain a lot when taking into account dam development activities in the lower Mekong.
“China itself doesn’t need the power but stands to gain in two ways: First, work for Chinese dam-building and engineering companies,” said Richard Cronin, director of the Southeast Asia program at Stimson Center, a US-based research institute.
“Second, China gains a lot of political influence,” Cronin said. “China has already largely displaced Vietnam’s former influence.”


An Dien
Thanh Nien News

November 29, 2012

“Lao people are not afraid of having dams,” Daovong Phonekeo, director general added

In the Mekong, it’s dam if you do, dam if you don’t

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By Thin Lei-Win

A fisherman throws his net into the water near the controversial Pak Mun Dam in northeast Thailand. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang May 29, 2006.

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Sompong Viengchan is shown standing in front of a long, narrow concrete water channel on a steep slope beside the Pak Mun hydropower dam in northern Thailand, on a tributary of the Mekong River.

The concrete fish ladder was built as an afterthought when environmentalists’ warnings about the dam’s impact on fish migration proved accurate, and formerly thriving fishing and farming villages in the area were deprived of their food and livelihood.

The ladder was a dismal failure, Sompong, a fisherwoman-turned-activist who’s been fighting against the dam for 20 years, said in “Mekong”, a new documentary on the world’s 12th longest river that was screened in Bangkok on Tuesday.

“Fish are supposed to jump up from this side to the other side but they can’t,” she said. “We told them it wouldn’t work. The fish of the Mun River are big, they can’t swim into this channel.”

The dam has been operating since 1994 but the 3,000 families affected by its construction still face difficulties today, including the disruption of fisheries, inadequate compensation and health problems, Sompong told journalists at the screening on Tuesday.

The government has partly given in to the villagers’ persistent demands by opening the dam’s gates for four months a year to allow fish to spawn, but this isn’t enough, she said.

Experts say fish ladders, used at high dams in North America and Europe for salmon which have “remarkable jumping abilities that enable them to scale waterfalls and fish ladders more successfully than any other group of fish,” are not suitable for the species in the Mekong, none of which are salmon.

Yet, as energy demand is projected to almost double in the Asia Pacific region by 2030, governments and construction companies are going ahead with new dam building  projects anyway.

The Lao government is using an untested fish ladder design in its controversial $3.5 billion, 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi hydropower project, aiming to allay the concern of its downstream neighbours, Vietnam and Cambodia, about the dam’s environmental, ecological, livelihood and food security impact on millions of people.


Xayaburi is the first of a dozen dams planned by Laos and one of more than 140 due to be built in the lower Mekong basin – which provides more fish to more people than any other river in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It’s part-financed by Thai banks and its main developer is Thailand’s second-biggest construction firm, Ch Karnchang Pcl. It plans to export 95 percent of the power it produces to Thailand.

In early November, Laos held a groundbreaking ceremony for the contentious dam, despite objections from environmentalists and neighbouring countries.

“If Laos wants to leave ‘least developed country’ status by 2020, (hydropower) is our only choice,” Vice Minister at the Energy and Mines Ministry Viraphohn Viravong, an engineer by training, says in the film, directed by Douglas Varchol.

The documentary screening and subsequent panel discussion, which brought together activists and experts from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos – a rare occasion – came at a time of heightened interest and debate  over the future of the Mekong, which flows from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea.

Witoon Permpongsacharoen, director of Mekong Energy and Ecology Network, is opposed to dams on the main Mekong River.

“You see a small one like Pak Mun has tremendous impact, and this is just on a tributary (of the Mekong), so what’s going to happen with the mainstream dams, the big ones like Xayaburi (almost 10 times as big as Pak Mun) and others? That’s what really concerns us,” he said.

Daovong Phonekeo, director general at Laos’s department of energy policy and planning, is confident Xayaburi will be a force for good. The Environmental Impact Assessment found trans-boundary impacts to be “negligible” because Xayaburi is over 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) from the Mekong delta in Vietnam, he said.

“Lao people are not afraid of having dams,” he added.


Nguyen Huu Thien, an ecologist raised in the Mekong Delta, disagreed, saying Laos has failed to properly address legitimate concerns which also include the loss of sediment that enriches the soil and the possible collapse of ancillary industries around farming and fishery.

“The government of Laos relies only on the consultancy companies… and that’s taking place outside the diplomatic process of the Mekong region,” he said.

“The technical proposals made by the engineers are only theoretical. They’re not proven, so our concern remains,” he added.

But everyone wants bright lights and air-conditioning these days. With wind and solar still considered prohibitively expensive, what alternative do we have?

For Witoon, the problem lies in the inefficiency of existing power stations and current usage of power in Thailand. For example, while Pak Mun dam generates 160 million units of power per year, three big supermalls in Bangkok alone consume about 270 million units, he said.

Power consumption has not grown as much as predicted in the past 15 years and Thailand now has more than 3,000 megawatts of solar power available, as well as other forms of  renewable energy, he said.

“But the system and policy don’t really promote that. It’s still very much driven by the big energy industry, the construction company which gets a concession to build a dam on the Mekong, and Thai commercial banks which have lent more than $12 billion to build dams in Laos,” said Witoon.

November 7, 2012

Laos holds groundbreaking ceremony for contentious Mekong dam


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By Annie Chenaphun

XAYABURI, Laos | Wed Nov 7, 2012 6:37am EST

(Reuters) – Laos held a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday for a $3.5 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River that is opposed by environmentalists and neighboring countries because of the possible impact on livelihoods, fisheries and agriculture.

“We had the opportunity to listen to the views and opinions of different countries along the river. We have come to an agreement and chose today to be the first day to begin the project,” Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad said at the site.

The poor Southeast Asian country has ambitions to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” through power exports from dams across the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong.

However, after pressure from neighbors, it agreed to suspend the Xayaburi dam last December, pending a study led by Japan.

“Laos has made a misleading statement by saying it has already addressed environmental concerns, in an attempt to get support from the other governments. The studies that have been conducted are not yet finished,” said Kirk Herbertson, Southeast Asia coordinator for environmental group International Rivers.

Government officials from Cambodia and Vietnam, which have opposed the dam, did not respond to requests for comment

The groundbreaking ceremony, which normally celebrates the formal start of construction, went ahead the morning after 29 European and Asian states, among them critics of the dam, held a summit meeting in Laos’s capital, Vientiane.

Thai construction giant Ch Karnchang Pcl has been carrying out what it called preliminary work for nearly two years, with Lao officials repeatedly playing down the extent of the work. The dam had been scheduled to be built by 2019.

A Reuters journalist at the site on Wednesday said substantial construction had taken place, including access roads and work on the riverbanks, but nothing appeared to have been built on the river itself.

Herbertson said International Rivers had visited the site in June and noted work involving digging into the riverbed.

“The groundbreaking ceremony would be the start of building the first structure on the river, so this would be the beginning of blocking the river including fish and nutrients flowing down the river,” he said.

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong was quoted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday as saying the plans were still under study and that the day’s event was simply an organized visit for journalists, scientists and others.

However, a banner at the site described it as a groundbreaking ceremony.

Ecologists warn the livelihoods of 60 million people in the lower Mekong region, mainly in Cambodia and Vietnam, would be at risk if the dam went ahead as the design could block migratory routes of fish and deprive swathes of rice land of fertile silt.


They say environmental impact assessments by Laos were inadequate and meant to appease international critics, including the United States.

In Finland, at the urging of environmental groups, a government committee is looking into whether engineering firm Poyry followed international guidelines in work for the dam, Antti Riivari, a director at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, said.

Activists say it gave misleading information about the dam’s potential impact in a report. They also say there is a conflict of interest since it is doing engineering work on the project. The company declined comment.

“Laos is playing roulette with the Mekong river, offering unproven solutions and opening up the Mekong as a testing ground for new technologies,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers.

Mekong basin countries – Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia as well as Laos – are bound by a treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before building dams.

But none has veto powers and Laos is within its rights to proceed with Xayaburi, the first of 11 hydropower dams planned in the lower Mekong that are expected to generate 8 percent of Southeast Asia’s power by 2025.

Thailand, another country affected by the dam, has refrained from criticizing Laos. It will buy about 95 percent of the power generated by the facility.

Ch Karnchang, Thailand’s second-biggest building contractor, has a 57 percent share in the project. State-owned Thai energy giant PTT Pcl has 25 percent and state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand 12.5 percent.

Early reports of the groundbreaking ceremony sent shares in Ch Karnchang up 5.7 percent on Monday to 9.3 baht, the highest since January 2011. They ended flat at 9.25 baht on Wednesday.

Ch Karnchang CEO Plew Trivisvavet defended the project.

“If this (would) badly affect the environment, we wouldn’t do it. This company wouldn’t do it. This is the company’s strongest policy,” he told Reuters at the site.

(Writing by Martin Petty in Vientiane; Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok and Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ron Popeski)

August 29, 2012

Study damns Mekong dams

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Study damns Mekong dams
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK – Impoverished Laos is unlikely to cancel a Thai project to build a mega-dam across the Mekong River at Xayaburi, despite warnings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that it could devastate the region’s rich biodiversity.

At least 1,780 known freshwater fish species have been identified in the “Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot’, which includes the Mekong and parts of the Chao Phraya River that flows through Thailand, revealed the 158-page report released last week by the IUCN, ahead of its world congress to be held in Jeju, South Korea from September 6-15.

IUCN, which is based in Switzerland and is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network, assists societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and biodiversity of nature and to ensure that the use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

“The Mekong ranks third (after the Amazon and Congo) or second in the world in terms of diversity of river fish, depending on whether the verified species total or the higher estimate is accepted,” notes the IUCN study, “The Status and Distribution of Freshwater Biodiversity in Indo-Burma”.

The study has strengthened a growing anti-dam movement that has united campaigners from several countries in the region that are likely to be affected by the 1,260-megawatt hydropower project being built at a cost US$3.8 billion.

“This is an unprecedented scientific contribution for us to know what is in the river between [the Laotian cities of] Luang Prabang and Vientiane,” Robert Mather, head of IUCN Southeast Asia, told IPS. “It shows how little we understand the river or the impact of the planned dam.”

The report will feed discussions about dams like the Xayaburi at the IUCN gathering at Jeju, which is expected to include more than 1,200 government and non-government organisations (NGOs) from 160 countries.

“This study will help to shape the real questions that need to be asked when doing EIAs [environment impact assessments] before building the dam,” Mather said.

Thai communities rallying against the Xayaburi dam this month lodged a petition against the energy ministry and the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in the country’s administrative courts, charging these bodies with failure to inform the public about the environmental and social impacts of the dam.

Even so, Norkun Sitthiphong, permanent secretary in Thailand’s energy ministry, announced on August 24 that construction work for the Xayaburi dam was on track and that electricity production was scheduled to begin by 2019.

“The Xayaburi power plant plays a crucial role in Thailand’s power development,” the Thai official said, affirming the close link Thailand has as a major investor of this dam, the first of a cascade of 11 dams being planned to harness the lower waters of Southeast Asia’s largest river.

Earlier studies by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-government agency, estimate that the proposed dams could result in agricultural losses worth more than $500 million annually and reduce dietary fish intake of Thai and Lao people by 30%.

It could also result in the creation of reservoirs along the Mekong, studies by the MRC, in which Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are members and Myanmar (or Burma) and China are dialogue partners.

The MRC is yet to clear construction for the dam and announced in December that it would approach international development partners to study the dam’s implications before doing so.

Activists believe that it is not too late to stop the Xayaburi dam especially because of a growing movement against it.

“This is the first time local communities have gone to the Thai courts to stop a cross-border hydropower project,” said Premrudee Daoroung, co-director of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, a Bangkok-based green lobby.

“They are turning to a clause in the Thai constitution that requires government agencies to conduct public hearings on projects like the Xayaburi dam, which will impact Thai communities and Thailand’s biodiversity,” she told IPS.

“Their biggest concern is that the dam will devastate fishing in the Mekong, which has been their main livelihood for generations. Their campaign began out of fear that the Xayaburi dam will affect the annual fish migration in the Mekong.”

Loss of biodiversity is another concern. “The currency for measuring fish biodiversity is species, not kilograms, dollars or catch per unit of effort,” the IUCN report said.

Grassroots communities in Cambodia and Vietnam have expressed similar concerns in their “Save the Mekong” campaign.
The Xayaburi dam could, they say, threaten the livelihoods of some 60 million people living in the lower Mekong, who harvest an estimated $2.2 billion to $3.9 billion worth of fish annually – or about a quarter of the world’s annual inland-water catch.

Besides food security, this campaign, which has been endorsed by nearly 60,000 people, has also forged other bonds.

“The outcry has been strong because of the centrality of the river to millions of people, as well as to the region’s history and cultural identity,” said Carl Middleton, a Mekong River expert who lectures at the International Development Studies Programme at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“Just as the river is shared between the countries, so the proposed Xayaburi dam has brought many people together in opposition to the project,” he told IPS. “The size of the public response opposed to the Xayaburi dam is unprecedented for a hydropower project in the region.”

The protests have produced a mixed response from Laos, one of the poorest of the six countries that shares the Mekong, a 4,880 km-long river that flows through southern China, touching Myanmar and Thailand, and through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Laos has set its sights on becoming the battery to the region by tapping its rivers through large hydropower projects and selling the energy generated to its neighbors, such as Thailand. The foreign exchange, Vientiane argues, can help one-third of the country’s 5.8 million population living in poverty.

Laos has assured neighbors, Western donors and an intergovernmental river development body that it would not proceed with the controversial dam till the cross-border environmental and social impacts have been assessed. In July, Vientiane even announced suspension of the project.

Ch Karnchang Plc (CK), one of Thailand’s largest infrastructure builders and owner of 50% of the shares of Xayaburi Power, the controversial dam’s developer, suggests otherwise.

In mid-August, CK’s chief executive, Plew Trivisvavet, confirmed that the dam developer had not skipped a beat in its construction plans. “We’re still working on the project, as no one has told us to stop,” he told journalists.

(Inter Press Service)

July 13, 2012

How many time they say?

Laos confirms has suspended controversial Xayaburi dam

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PHNOM PENH | Fri Jul 13, 2012 7:10am EDT

(Reuters) – Laos confirmed on Friday that work has been suspended on a controversial $3.5 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River after requests from neighboring countries and environmental groups, the first time the government has publicly declared the project halted.

“The Lao government decided to postpone it. We have to do further studies,” Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told reporters on the sidelines of a regional meeting in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Thongloun Sisoulith said a seminar on the matter would be held on Saturday in Luang Prabang in Laos and that concerned parties would be able to visit the site of the dam.

Vietnam, which has opposed the project, welcomed the news, saying the dam was one of the biggest concerns for countries along the Mekong River.

Laos had agreed to suspend the project last December, pending further studies led by Japan, after protests that the 1,260 megawatt dam would harm migratory fish and the livelihood of fishermen and communities along the river.

However, campaigners have said Thai construction company Ch Karnchang Pcl, the main developer, was going ahead with work on the ground, a claim the government denied in local media last week.

Japan said this week it had seen no request from the countries concerned for funds for an environmental impact assessment.

“If the Commissioner of the Mekong River is going to produce a plan to conduct the scientific environmental survey, I think Japan has already made it clear that it is ready to positively consider assistance,” said Naoko Saiki, a deputy press secretary at Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The project, which would bring the first dam across the lower Mekong, is being led by Thai builders, power firms and banks. Thailand would take about 95 percent of the electricity generated.

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia share the lower stretches of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Alan Raybould and Daniel Magnowski)

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