Posts tagged ‘Mekong River Commission’

June 27, 2014

Laos Agrees to More Scrutiny on Mekong Dam After Calls for Delay

Bloomberg News

Laos Agrees to More Scrutiny on Mekong Dam After Calls for Delay

By Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Jason Folkmanis Jun 27, 2014 12:07 AM ET

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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.”

Xayaburi Project

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.

Near Cambodia

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 reporters on this story: Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at; Jason Folkmanis in Ho Chi Minh City at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tony Jordan at



June 20, 2014

Vietnam Leading the Way for Improved Transboundary Water Governance

International Rivers


Vietnam Leading the Way for Improved Transboundary Water Governance

A boat travels along the Mekong River between the border of Laos and Cambodia International Rivers

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.

More information: 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kate Ross

Mekong Program Associate


April 10, 2014

Vietnam: Laos should consult Mekong countries before building dam

Vietnam:  Laos should consult Mekong countries before building dam

Monday, April 07, 2014 08:18
Vietnam and Cambodia have once again asked Laos to consult with countries in the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a consultative body that works with lower basin countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – before moving forward with the potentiallyriskyDonSahong hydropower project.Minister of Natural Resources and EnvironmentNguyenMinhQuang told a press conference wrapping up the 2nd MRC Summit in HoChiMinh City Saturday that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen had made the request while meeting with LaosPMThongsingThammavong,TuoiTre (Youth) Newspaper reported.Quang said the two countries asked Laos to wait for the result of a Vietnam-initiated study on the impacts of the planned project on the main current of the Mekong River, scheduled to be released next year, before making its move.“We hoped Laos would also pay attention to the opinions of other countries in the region on the matter as well,” he said.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ha Kim Ngoc told the press conference Vietnam considered the development of Laos as its own development, but both Vietnam and Cambodia agreed that hydropower development on the Mekong River’s main current must comply with MRC regulations so as not to badly affect countries on the lower basin.

In his speech at the plenary session of the 2nd MRC Summit, Dung said the Mekong River has become one of the five largest rivers in the world with the most serious reductions in flows recently.

The annual average flow of the Mekong River at Chieng Sen, the gateway to the Lower Mekong Basin, has been reduced by 10 percent over the past 30 years, he said.

“In Vientiane, Laos, the Mekong River has dried out to the point the people can walk across the river in the dry season.

“Meanwhile, in Thailand, the once calm Chao Phraya River inflicted huge floods of a national disaster level for months in 2011.

“In the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam, salinity intrusion happened for the first time in the areas of Tan Chau and Chau Doc of An Giang Province.”

According to Dung, to address such challenges, national efforts are not enough. Regional cooperation must be strengthened, particularly among the riparian countries, both upper and lower, through multilateral and sub-regional mechanisms such as the MRC, he said.

Last year, Vietnam also called on Laos to honor its pledge to consult with its neighbors before moving forward with the Don Sahong project.
The Vietnam National Mekong Committee sent a letter demanding Laos honor regional cooperation pledged by the countries in the 1995 Mekong Agreement. According to some sources, Cambodian and Thai committees also sent separate letters to Laos.

“We suggest that the proposed project needs to be considered under the prior consultation process,” states Vietnam’s letter.

Under the agreement, regulated by the MRC, a dam developer must notify or consult with member countries before beginning construction.
In October 2013, Laos notified the MRC of its intent to build the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam, despite calls from foreign donors to consult neighbors that face a risk of depleted fish stocks and damaged livelihoods. Experts have also voiced concerns over the bad impacts of the project on the main current of the river.

Laos planned to start work on the project later this year.

The dam, to be developed by Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Bhd, is the second of 11 dams planned by Laos along its stretch of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand have repeatedly voiced concerns about Laos failing to honor a consultation agreement on a bigger project, the US$3.5 billion, 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam for which it held a groundbreaking ceremony in late 2012.

Lao media reported April 3 that the project was 23 percent finished and is expected to be operational in 2019.

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Thanh Nien News

April 9, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City: Mekong Summit Struggles to Halt Devastating Dams


Mekong Summit Struggles to Halt Devastating Dams

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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