Posts tagged ‘Mekong River Commission (MRC)’

April 5, 2014

Laos recommended to consult MRC again on new hydropower project

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Laos recommended to consult MRC again on new hydropower project

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Thoai Tran

Updated : 04/05/2014 20:00 GMT + 7

Nguyen Minh Quang (1st, left), Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung(2nd, left), and Ha Kim Ngoc, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the last press conference of MRC Summit 2014.  Thoai Tran

Laos Government should consult Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the construction of a new hydropower project which is projected to begin late this year, said Vietnamese senior state officials at a recent press conference of the 2nd MRC Summit 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City.

Laos officially announced its plan to build the 260MW Don Sahong hydropower project on the river in October last year, the second move after the Southeast Asian country publicized its plan to build Xayaburi hydropower project on the Mekong River in November 2012.

When asked by Tom Fawthrop, the English collaborator of the UK magazine The Economist, at the conference held to conclude the 4-day event, Nguyen Minh Quang, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment said Laos should consult with other MRC members again about the project before taking any move.

“Though already being informed by Lao side that work on the project will be started by the end of this year, both the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides have agreed that Laos should comply with the 1995 MRC Mekong Agreement,” Quang said.

According to the agreement, all MRC member countries should consult with the remaining MRC members when they want to build a new hydropower project on the mainstream of the Mekong River, and in this case it is the Don Sahong project, Quang added.

“In addition, we [Vietnamese and Cambodian governments] also recommended Laos only to begin work on the project after new rules comes into effect. The new rules will be released as soon as the environmental assessments of hydropower plants on the mainstream of the river jointly conducted by the three countries for the period ending by 2015 complete,” he said.

“In the yesterday meeting between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian and Laotian counterparts, Prime Minister Dung and Prime Minister Hun Sen also suggested Laos to reconsider the recommendation of Vietnam and Cambodia,” Quang said.

“We think that Laos have taken our recommendations very seriously,” Ha Kim Ngoc, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at the conference.

“Laos officials have told us that as they carried out the hydropower plants on the mainstream of the Mekong River, they weigh both the benefits those project may bring to Lao people and the side effects on Cambodian and Vietnamese people very carefully.”

“Once they find that the side effects are greater than expectation, they will surely adjust the projects [to fit with the new circumstance],” he added.


“The Lao Government has notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with the development oftheDonSahong Hydropower ProjectintheSiphandone area of Southern Laos.The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 260 megawatts of electricity. In its notification, submitted to the MRC Secretariat and dated 30 September 2013,LaoPDR also provided the complete technical feasibility study , including the project’s social and environmental impact assessments and fisheries study which will be shared with the other MRC Member Countries—Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.According to the Government of LaoPDR, the project’s construction is expected to start in November 2013 and finish by February 2018. The commercial operation is set to begin in May 2018. The energy generated by the project will be fully sold to the national power utility,Electricite du Laos (EDL), to supply the increased domestic power demand.”

(Press release dated 3rd Oct 2013 on the official MRC website)

press-4-4-14a.jpg   3rd April 2014 , Vientiane, Lao PDR

International experts call for Mekong leaders to look beyond water to achieve real impact

Intensified and balanced interactions are key to achieve practical goals to tackle climate change woes amidst increased water, energy and food demands, concluded an International Conference


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Mekong leaders adopt Ho Chi Minh City Declaration

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Updated : 04/05/2014 13:45 GMT + 7

Accelerating basin-wide studies to reduce negative impacts and battling natural disaster woes are among key priorities for Mekong nations as the second Mekong River Commission summit concluded in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday.

Heads of government of Cambodia, Lao, Thailand and Vietnam Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to the Mekong cooperation, to follow up the implementation of the Hua Hin Declaration of 2010, and set priorities for the Mekong River Commission, including the need to expedite studies and research for sound advice and recommendations on development that will increasingly place burdens on Mekong resources.

The Ho Chi Minh City Declaration was adopted by the premiers of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and the Special Envoy of Thailand.

Among its conclusions, the leaders stated that The MRC Council Study and the Mekong Delta Study will provide a basis for better understanding about potential risks and benefits of development initiatives.

At the end of the 2nd MRC Summit, the national leaders also set other priorities for the Mekong River Commission to take action to address regional opportunities and challenges over the next decade including population growth, increasing demand for water, food and energy and climate change.

The Council Study on Sustainable Management and Development of the Mekong River, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower projects has been initiated by the MRC Council which comprises water and environment ministers at their annual Meeting in December 2011.

The Council Study aims to provide a better picture on potential transboundary impacts due to mainstream developments.

“To address such challenges, national efforts are not enough.

“We need to strengthen regional cooperation, particularly among the riparian countries, both upper and lower, through multilateral and sub-regional mechanisms such as the MRC,” said Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, whose country hosted the 2nd MRC Summit.

“We note that the development of water resources of the Mekong River Basin has contributed largely to the socio-economic development of the region, such as for navigation, energy and food production, but also has negative environmental and social impacts in the Basin that need to be fully and effectively addressed,” the leaders said in the Ho Chi Minh City Declaration they adopted at the 2nd MRC Summit.

The MRC will focus on avoiding, reducing and mitigating risks to river ecology, food security, livelihoods and water quality posed by intensive agriculture, aquaculture and irrigation as well as hydropower, navigation and other development activities, the Declaration says.

The document acknowledges the progress made since the 1st Summit in Hua Hin in 2010 and reiterates the need for the Member Countries to work through the mechanisms of the MRC to manage the shared waters.

“The MRC should be measured in how it fosters international cooperation and in the end how the outcomes of the cooperation is producing improvements in society, the environment and economic development,” said Hans Guttman, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.

The leaders also prioritized further efforts to reduce the risks of floods and droughts and the effects of sea level rise in the Mekong Basin.

In battling the effects of natural disaster, leaders stressed that the Mekong Countries recognize that climate change will continue to alter the hydrological regime of the basin and consequently effect livelihoods and economies in the region.

The MRC will look ahead and set a clear direction, identifying new opportunities and addressing challenges to come up with the next strategic plan and to engage more meaningfully not only with development partners but also all other stakeholders, especially civil society.

The heads of government reaffirmed their political commitment to implement the 1995 Mekong Agreement and commit to enhance and strengthen the MRC’s relationships and cooperation with Dialogue Partners, China and Myanmar and Development Partners.




March 13, 2014

Laos to Break Ground on Don Sahong Dam in December

Laos to Break Ground on Don Sahong Dam in December

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Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong speaks to reporters near the future Don Sahong dam site, Nov. 10, 2013.

Laos said it will begin formal construction on the controversial Don Sahong dam on the Mekong River in December, vowing to proceed with the project transparently to assuage fears over its potential environmental impact.

Preparatory work on the 260-megawatt dam began in July last year, but full-scale construction will proceed “in the beginning of December,” Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong told the media during a tour of the project site.

“Work on a bridge and access roads are already underway,” Viraponh said.

“By the end of the year we will close the cofferdam [which allows water to be pumped out of the site] and will begin work on the Hou Sahong [channel],” he said.

The Don Sahong dam is to be located slightly more than 1 kilometer (0.75 mile) from the Lao-Cambodia border, will block the Hou Sahong channel—which environmental groups say is the only year-round channel for transboundary fish migration on the Mekong.

Viraponh said that contracts to purchase the electricity produced by the dam had already been signed, the concession to Malaysian dam developer Mega First Berhad mapped out and sent to lawmakers for approval, and that a loan agreement would be completed by May.

The electricity generated by the project will be fully sold to the national power utility Electricite du Laos (EDL) to meet increased demand for domestic power, state media reported.

He expressed confidence that the project “will bring development to the local area,” claiming it would have little impact on the region because it is a spillover dam that does not require flooding for a large reservoir.

“The people of the area will have a new way of living,” he said.

Viraponh spoke during the second day of a tour of the site for more than 100 representatives of member countries of the Mekong River Commission (MRC)—an intergovernmental body which oversees development on the waterway—development partners, international nongovernmental organizations, and Lao and foreign media.

The two-day visit was organized by the Lao government and Mega First as part of a bid to demonstrate transparency for the project and to address concerns over its impact on the environment and on riparian communities who rely on the Mekong for their livelihood.

Environment groups, including International Rivers, had warned that the project—part of Laos’s plans to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia by selling electricity to its neighbors—“spells disaster” for fish migration on the Mekong and threatens regional food security.

Villagers’ concerns

On Wednesday, villagers who will be relocated to make way for the dam told members of the media that they do not oppose the project, but want Mega First to provide them with an alternative to fishing, which they currently rely on as a source of food and income.

“If there is no alternative livelihood for us, we villagers are likely to stand against the project,” one resident said on condition of anonymity.

He said that the developer should provide assistance and jobs that would allow them to draw an income comparable to what they earn from their traditional work catching fish.

Another villager said that officials previously visited the area explaining to residents that the project would introduce new jobs, though it had been more than a month since they had heard any more information.

“On Jan. 27, they came to meet the villagers asking about our needs,” he said.

“They said that they would provide some sort of funding as assistance for us and that we would be able to pursue work in fields like animal husbandry, fish breeding, growing vegetables, or whatever we like.”

He said that he hoped the project developer would support them according to what they had been told during the January meeting, but expressed concern because there had been no follow up discussions.

On Wednesday in Champassak province, ahead of the visit to the dam site, Viraphonh told the delegation that the government has demanded that developers conduct extensive research on all potential environmental and social impacts of proposed hydropower projects, according to a report by the state-run Vientiane Times.

“We insist that studies be done professionally and thoroughly by recognized international experts and that the resulting analysis and technical data be disseminated wholly and honestly with other qualified experts for discussion,” he said.

Viraponh said that the government would continue to welcome comments from MRC member countries, development partners and environmentalists so it can improve the project’s final design and ensure its sustainability, according to the report.

Potential impacts

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said recently that blocking the Hou Sahong channel would cause “permanent damage” to the Mekong basin’s fishery resources, which it valued at between U.S. $1.4 billion and $3.9 billion per year.

The group contends that water quality, sediment flow, habitat degradation and increased boat traffic brought on by the project, as well as explosives used in excavation, could decimate the Mekong’s remaining 85 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

It has called for suspension of the project “pending completion of independent, comprehensive and scientific trans-boundary studies,” adding that all additional studies should include transparent consultation with governments, civil society, and communities that would be affected by the proposed dam.

Laos’s announcement of plans to forge ahead with the Don Sahong in September 2013 also prompted objections from neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, which said not enough study had been done on the project’s downstream impact.

An impact assessment carried out by Mega First claims that fish will be able to use other channels to migrate and that the dam’s environmental and social effects will be mitigated, but critics say that the study is based on flawed information.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

January 11, 2014

China Should Join Mekong Commission: US Official

China Should Join Mekong Commission: US Official

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By Joshua Lipes


Aaron Salzberg speaks with RFA during an interview in Washington, Dec. 20, 2013.

China should join an intergovernmental commission supervising development of the Mekong River to more effectively address environmental and other problems faced by downstream Southeast Asian nations, a senior U.S. government official says.

Aaron Salzberg, special coordinator for water issues at the U.S. State Department, also underlined the importance of political will in ensuring that the Mekong River Commission (MRC) functions as an effective forum in coordinating shared use of the region’s main waterway.

“In the long run, I think it would be good for China to become a full active member in the MRC … sharing data so that the downstream countries actually understand what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen and they can prepare accordingly for those types of things,” Salzberg told RFA.

“China can play an active role in managing their infrastructure for downstream benefits,” he said.

Five dams commissioned in China on the Mekong river’s upper portion have caused rapid changes in water levels and other adverse effects downstream, especially in the four countries of the Lower Mekong Basin—Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos—where tens of millions of people depend on the river for food, water, and transportation, environmentalists say.

China has refused to join the MRC—which comprises the four lower Mekong nations and manages development along the Mekong—although the river’s source is located within the Asian giant’s borders, saying it prefers to negotiate on a bilateral basis to resolve any problems on the issue.

Salzberg said that Beijing should join the MRC and provide greater transparency on how its management of the resource might affect its neighbors.

“[H]ow you manage those systems and those dams—how you release water, when do you release the water –if that’s coordinated with the downstream countries, the benefits could be much greater than if it was done absent of knowing what the downstream countries were doing.”

Salzberg said that China’s management of the Mekong headwaters also affects the critical flow of sediment along the river.

“Without that dirt, the delta down at the far end [in Vietnam] doesn’t get replenished and the farmlands don’t get replenished, the nutrients are lost for the fish populations, and you can imagine with climate change happening the subsidence of the delta is greatly enhanced,” he said.

“So how you manage that and trap that sediment flow is critically important … The development upstream in China could have a profound impact on the sediment flows downstream, in addition to the water flows, so we’d love to see them become an active member in this process.”

Strategic grip

China has built dozens of hydropower dams across its rivers, many of which—like the Mekong River—run from sources on the Tibetan plateau to Asian neighbors downstream.

Yet, the world’s most populous nation does not have a single water-sharing treaty in place with any of its neighboring countries, and experts say Beijing has refused to be tied up by a regional regulatory framework because it fears it will lose its strategic grip on transboundary river flows.

China has often been criticized by environmental groups for building massive dams without considering the interests of its downstream neighbors, which is then replicated in areas like the Mekong River basin, where Laos is proceeding with a megadam upstream from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The MRC ruled last year that the Xayaburi dam required further study, but the body’s recommendations are nonbinding and Laos has decided to proceed with the project.

Salzberg acknowledged that it is a challenge to convince upstream countries to join regional bodies that might regulate their usage of regional water sources.

“From their perspective, why should they be making sacrifices for the benefit of the downstream countries?” he asked.

“And, unless there are really strong economic ties between those countries or broader geopolitical context that suggests a strong relationship between these countries, it’s often very, very difficult to do that … The incentives can be very modest.”

But he stressed that China should view itself as part of the greater region.

“It’s always hard when you are trying to balance your country’s national interests either for energy or for food or for anything else … with the interests of [your] neighbors. These are always real challenges and tensions that we have to manage everywhere,” he said.

“I think it’s a healthy thing to have disagreement and to have conflict. That is often what drives innovation and can drive cooperation … As a lot of these issues are coming to the forefront—and some of them are contentious—that is going to drive a new spirit of cooperation within the region.”

Political will

Salzberg said that even regional bodies like the MRC, the rulings of which are nonbinding to its members, can be effective channels of cooperation, provided participants have “the political will” to work together.

“[I]f the countries are committed to making that structure work—really using it as a platform to develop the best science, house the best data, put forward recommendations on how the basin can be developed and managed for the benefit of all the people—then I think it really can become an institution that helps drive decision making and cooperation within the basin,” he said.

“If the countries aren’t interested and the political will isn’t there, then … I’m not sure that the institution will ever realize its full potential.”

He said that the MRC has compiled a wealth of resources and experience that should be used for the benefit of not only the countries, but also the people of the Mekong basin.

“How we make that work … the countries are really going to have to have political commitment to doing that.”

He cautioned that outside observers must remain sensitive to the idea that political discourse between countries in Southeast Asia is “fundamentally different” from what nations might have in other regions of the world.

“Different groups work in different ways,” he said.

“Maybe we haven’t found the sweet spot yet for what the right arrangement is that allows this region to address these kinds of challenges.”

Mekong issues

Salzberg also warned that limited data about the Mekong would affect plans to develop the region.

“[P]robably the scariest part of all this is that we’re entering into this development phase without really knowing what the baseline river system is,” he said.

“I don’t think we understand enough about how the basin works right now to do some of these projects in a manner that [the global community] would feel comfortable with,” he added, referring to plans countries have decided to push ahead on without adequately addressing the concerns of all stakeholders.

Among those concerns are issues with how changes in river flows associated with such huge projects might affect fish spawning, silt flow, food security, and even cultural traditions.

Other indirect challenges include how climate change may affect the Mekong’s water flow and whether one country might regulate the flow of water into another country to achieve political goals, he said.

“I think the greatest challenge we have right now is just understanding the basin—what lives in there, how it works, and how is it that we can develop it in a way that protects those things that we think are important,” Salzberg said.

“And I think that’s the real issue—to be smart, to think about what we’re doing before we do it, make decisions deliberately and with full stakeholder engagement, and hopefully … we end up with something that provides benefits for 100 to 150 years, in that it doesn’t start creating problems after year 30.”

November 21, 2012

Save the Mekong, before it’s too late!

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November 19, 2012 1:00 am

Dear Mekong River Commission Member Countries, Secretariat and Development Partners,

The construction of Xayaburi Dam is proceeding despite the concerns of Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries. Laos and Thailand’s decision to proceed with the dam not only threatens the livelihoods of communities depending on the Mekong but also undermines the integrity of the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

The MRC – which has a responsibility to make “every effort to avoid, minimise and mitigate harmful effects that might occur” from development and use of the river – has remained silent, while regional cooperation and the future sustainability of the Mekong River moves towards the brink of collapse.

The Save the Mekong coalition demands that the MRC, its member countries and development partners take immediate action to stop all construction on Xayaburi Dam for these reasons:

In a May letter to the coalition, Hans Guttman, the MRC’s CEO, stated that under the prior consultation process, “the country proposing the project is required to take into account the rights and concerns of other member countries”. However, there has been no assessment of Xayaburi Dam’s transboundary impacts or further public consultations, as requested by Cambodia and Vietnam during the April 2011 Joint Committee meeting. To our knowledge, no agreement has been reached by the MRC to close the prior consultation process or to approve Xayaburi Dam, which means that construction should not be underway.

The project is also under review by three administrative decision-making bodies in Thailand for a violation of the Thai people’s constitutional rights.

Xayaburi Dam poses a major threat to people’s livelihoods, food security and the ecological integrity of the Mekong River. The MRC’s technical review of the project has warned that Xayaburi Dam could affect 23-100 fish species and potentially lead to the extinction of the iconic Mekong giant catfish.

Laos claims that Xayaburi Dam has been re-designed to address the concerns of neighbouring countries. Yet Laos has not studied the dam’s downstream impacts, nor has the final redesign of the project been made public or independently assessed. Instead, Laos has resorted to unsubstantiated and misleading claims by the Poyry Group that the dam will not have downstream impacts. Studies by the region’s leading scientists as well as the MRC have concluded that Poyry’s work lacks credibility. The true environmental and economic costs of the project are not yet known. The technologies proposed by Laos and Ppyry are unproven and have never been used successfully in the Mekong or any other tropical river.

The Mekong should not be used as a testing ground for unproven technologies. Xayaburi Dam developers must prove that they can meet the MRC’s preliminary design guidance measures, such as the requirement for a 95-per-cent fish passage effectiveness rate. Without any evidence of the effectiveness of mitigation measures, Xayaburi Dam is in violation of the agreed-upon Mekong standard and risks causing irreversible damage to the world’s largest inland fisheries.

Since 2009, the Save the Mekong coalition has been demanding regional governments to cancel plans to build hydropower dams on the Mekong River. The MRC must acknowledge the tens of thousands of people who have expressed concerns over Xayaburi Dam at the local, regional and international levels, through numerous letters, petitions and protests. The concerns that have been expressed by people dependent on the Mekong must be paramount in the dam’s decision-making process.

By moving forward without understanding the full implications of the project, reaching regional agreement, or even abiding by the preliminary design guidance measures, Xayaburi Dam is creating a dangerous precedent for decision-making over future Mekong mainstream development. This has called into question the purpose of the MRC. Xayaburi Dam’s “prior consultation” process has failed in its responsibility to the MRC and to the wider public.

Our demands

_ The Xayaburi Dam’s construction and power purchase agreement must be immediately suspended, as the dam does not fully comply with the 1995 Mekong Agreement;

_ Laos and Thailand must publicly release the final design of the dam and have it undergo an independent technical expert review commissioned by the MRC;

_ The MRC must immediately hold a regional public consultation in order to allow the public an opportunity to discuss Xayaburi Dam and the future of hydropower development on the Mekong River.

There has never been a more urgent time for the MRC to uphold its responsibilities and speak out against Xayaburi Dam. Before it’s too late, the MRC member countries must use the 21st Asean Summit to demand the suspension of Xayaburi Dam and uphold their commitments to protect the Mekong River and its people.

Save the Mekong coalition

November 6, 2012

US criticizes Laos decision to build dam across Mekong River, says ecological impact unknown


US criticizes Laos decision to build dam across Mekong River, says ecological impact unknown

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By Associated Press, Published: November 5

WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday criticized a decision by the struggling Asian nation of Laos to build the first dam across the mainstream of the Mekong River, a project that environmentalists warn could affect tens of millions of livelihoods and trigger a dam-building spree along Southeast Asia’s mightiest waterway.

The U.S. has urged a moratorium on such projects until impact studies are complete. But the State Department said Monday that Laos has announced its intention to start construction on the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam despite lingering concerns downstream.

“The extent and severity of impacts from the Xayaburi dam on an ecosystem that provides food security and livelihoods for millions are still unknown,” the department statement said.

Laos is one of Asia’s poorest nations and hydropower is already a key source of revenue. The project, which will generate electricity for sale to neighboring Thailand, is strongly opposed by longtime Lao ally, Vietnam.

Opponents say the dam in central Laos would open the door for a building spree of as many as 10 other dams on the 3,000-mile river in Laos and Cambodia, degrading its fragile ecology and affecting the livelihoods of residents who rely on its fish and its water for irrigation.

The State Department said the U.S. has a strong interest in the sustainable management of the river and understands that members of the Mekong River Commission — a regulatory agency that includes representation from all four affected nations — has not yet reached consensus on whether the project should go ahead.

“We hope that the government of Laos will uphold its pledge to work with its neighbors in addressing remaining questions regarding Xayaburi,” the statement said.

Vietnam, which has fraternal communist party relations with Laos dating back to the Vietnam War, has urged at least a 10-year moratorium on all mainstream dams on the Mekong.

A commission meeting in April deferred a decision on the dam, but that outcome is not binding. An approach road and other dam-related facilities to the Xayaburi dam are already being built.

Media reports Monday quoted Lao deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong as saying full construction would formally start Wednesday. He said that modifications had been made to the design of the dam to address environmental concerns.

Laos is currently hosting a meeting of Asian and European leaders. The Lao Embassy in Washington said Monday it had no information about the dam project.

The dam would cut across a stretch of the river flanked by forested hills, cliffs and hamlets where ethnic minority groups reside in Xayaburi province, forcing the relocation of about 2,100 villagers and impacting many more. Environmentalists say it would also disrupt fish migrations, block nutrients for downstream farming and even foul Vietnam’s rice bowl by slowing the river’s speed and allowing saltwater to creep into the Mekong River Delta.

China has placed three dams across the upper reaches of the Mekong and more are planned. But otherwise the mainstream flows free.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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