Posts tagged ‘Mekong’

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

March 22, 2014

Cambodia Calls for Laos to Reconsider Mekong Dam

Cambodia Calls for Laos to Reconsider Mekong Dam

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Suy Heimkhemra

March 20, 2014

FILE – A Cambodian fisherman takes off his fishing net at Mekong river bank of Koh Norea village in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The Cambodian government has reiterated calls for Laos to reconsider its construction of a dam on the Mekong River that critics say could have serious ecological and economic impacts on people living downstream.

The head of the government’s National Mekong Committee, Te Navuth, told a meeting in Phnom Penh an environmental assessment done by Laos is unclear on how fish would migrate, and so more studies are needed.

“The measure called ‘two paths for fish migration’ is not reliable by looking at the research documents and activities.  There is no reliable data of fish population, but it comes from speculation,” he said.

Environmental groups worry the Don Sahong dam, to be built just upstream from Cambodia, could devastate fisheries that provide a major source of food for Cambodians living along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

Thailand and Vietnam have also called for Laos to halt the dam project.

NGO Forum executive director Teuk Vannara said the issue will be on the agenda of a regional meeting next month.

“Leaders from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thai will discuss and decide the fate of Don Sahong in their meeting in early April in Vietnam,” he said. “So we need to send our collective, final recommendations there.”

But Lao Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Somchit Inthamith, said this week that the dam is a vital, but environmentally friendly, energy project.

“We give top priority to the construction of hydropower dams because Laos has enormous potential in natural resources, especially rivers and streams, and we believe that hydropower dam development is more eco-friendly that other forms of energy development,” he said.

He also said the Lao government stands to earn $30 to 40 million a year when the dam is operational.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer and Lao services.

October 23, 2013

Hollande meets Laos president to talk business, not rights

Hollande meets Laos president to talk business, not rights

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French President François Hollande (L) with Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone at the Elysée Palace. AFP/Bertrand Guay

French President François Hollande met Laos’s leader Choummaly Sayasone in Paris on Tuesday in the first visit by a Loatian president since the country’s independence from France some 60 years ago. The visit is distinctly low-profile as several NGOs demand news of disappeared Laotian activist Sombath Somphone.

The Laotian president was due to meet business leaders at the headquarters of bosses’ union Medef on Wednesday and business was the central theme of the Elysée Palace’s statement after the two presidents met.

It called for an increase in French companies’ investments in Laos and announced the signing of a feasibility study into the extension of a hydroelectricty project on the Nam Theun river, a tributary of the Mekong.

Some of Laos’s hydroelectric projects on the Mekong have caused rows with neighbouring countries because of their possible effects downstream but an experts’ report says that measures have been taken to mitigate the enviromental effects of the Nam Theun project.

No press conference was organised for either Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s meetings, leading to speculation that the authorities wished to spare Sayasone the embarrassment of questions over the whereabouts of anti-corruption campaigner Somphone.

Human rights groups have called on France to press the Laotian leader for information about the activist, the 63-year-old head of the Participatory Development Center who disappeared in December 2012 and was last caught on CCTV cameras near a police station in the company of two unidentified individuals.

Europe and France should be concerned about his whereabouts, Debby Stothard of the International Federation of Human Rights told RFI as the two presidents met.

In February the European parliament expressed concern over his fate and the slow progress of the investigation into his disappearance.

A French Foreign Affairs Ministry statement on Monday called on the Laotian authorities to do everythgin possible to investigate the case but there was no indication that Hollande raised the subject with Sayasone in the presidential statement.

The two presidents paid tribute to the victims of the plane crash that cost 49 lives earlier this month.

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

Mekong River is so beautiful but soon will destroyed by Mekong dams: River songs

River songs

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Mekong, the lifeline of South-East Asia, is vast enough to straddle all kinds of paradoxes. To journey down the river is to witness life unfolding with all its contradictions, colours, urgencies and solemnities.

Murals on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of a wat.

At the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan, lies a quaint and picturesque town that belies the notion that the East and the West can never meet. Luang Prabang, the former imperial capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, is a felicitous blend of two very different cultures, the French and the Buddhist, and is perfectly at ease with this hybrid identity. Luang Prabang’s high street is lined with trendy street cafés in the best tradition of their Parisian counterparts. Yet, the street is also home to splendid Buddhist wats and monasteries with gilded pagodas and glittering Buddha statues. The delicious aroma of freshly baked baguettes and croissants and the strong smell of dark-roasted coffee mingle with the heady fragrance of jasmine and parijaat garlands waiting to adorn the deities in the numerous temples that dot this town.

We, a group of four women from India, had embarked upon a Mekong river trip, planning to sail upstream from Chau Doc in Vietnam all the way to Laos through Cambodia. Earlier, we had driven from a very vibrant Ho Chi Minh City to the boat jetty in Chau Doc in a taxicab. En route, we had to cross the Mekong and its tributaries a few times, on rickety ferries that carry everything from fowl, fish, rickshaws, scooters, trucks and other cargo in addition to people. Chau Doc is a bustling Vietnamese town that perches astride the mighty Mekong and is the gateway to all adventure lovers who want to explore this living river.


Guidebooks and travel websites had assured us that we could readily get passage on the many boats that sail upstream. That was certainly not our experience. Most of the boats had already been booked by tour groups from Europe headed to Angkor Wat. Those that were not were not exactly ship-shape, pun unintended. Finally, after cooling our heels in Chau Doc for two days, all we could manage was a single-hulled boat crammed with bucket seats, most of which were also taken by a tour group from France. We decided to plough on, regardless.

Monks crossing the Mekong in Cambodia.

So early next morning, we make our way to the boat jetty bleary-eyed and squeeze ourselves into the cramped and hermetically sealed cabin which was already packed with passengers and luggage. The steamer hoots tentatively and sets off, rending the dawn mist. With the boat on its way, we decide to colonise the roof of the boat to enjoy the caress of the sun’s emerging rays and the breeze. For the first couple of hours, visibility is near zero as a thick fog hangs heavy on the river, obscuring even the banks. But soon, life on the water’s edge begins to reveal itself, at first in tantalising glimpses, but gradually and slowly, in its full glory.

River of life

Mekong is said to be the lifeline of South-East Asia and nowhere is it more evident than when you sail on the river itself. The river is agog with boats of all sizes and varying vintage and purpose, their foghorns setting up a cacophony. Floating villages, some with houses on stilts, others fashioned out of tin or zinc sheets, are ubiquitous through the 12-hour journey that takes us to Phnom Penh. Occasionally, we pass through small towns. These sport the brick-and-mortar variant of the dwellings on the embankments. Markets are everywhere, some floating, others perched on the river’s edge, selling everything from pots and pans to plastic buckets, fruits, vegetables and items of everyday use; there are boat repair shacks, tuktuk sheds, small factories with smoke curling out of chimneys, and a few schools; we spy herdsmen herding their flocks of ducks and geese on the river, families travelling to their destinations on their own little canoes, fishermen hunched over their catch. In fact, fishing nets are a ubiquitous sight throughout the stretch; the hauls could range from sardines to eels and coils of river snakes, which are considered a delicacy in these parts. The river is said to be replete with otters and dolphins, but we do not see any.

Kaam Samnor is the immigration check point for those entering Cambodia by the river route. Our boat halts for a couple of hours and we sprint across a log platform to a shady grove with a sprinkling of huts, one of which houses the immigration office. Time seems to stand still in these parts as the friendly immigration officials and passengers lounge around. Finally, our passports are stamped and we scurry back to the boat baking in the midday sun. The harsh tropical sun blurs everything in sight and we skulk back into the dark recesses of the boat until evening when it enters Phnom Penh. The edifices on the river bank are no longer shacks of thatch or tin, but are glittering pagodas inlaid with gold leaf and embellished with intricate patterns. The Mekong is truly a lesson in paradoxes!

Originally, we had hoped to sail all the way to Siem Reap and thence to Laos, tracking the meandering course of the Mekong along the way. With very little information forthcoming regarding the availability of speed boats and border crossing facilities, we had blithely assumed this was possible. But at Phnom Penh, we learnt that the journey by river to Siem Reap would be three times as long as a road journey and it could be riven with dangers, considering the kind of boats available and the Tonle Sap lake that one has to cross or skirt to reach Siem Reap. Besides, we would have had to retrace our journey back from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and take the other branch of the river to the Laos border from Stung Treng to Veun Kham in Laos. Tonle Sap is Asia’s largest lake and can swell to 16,000 square kilometres in the monsoon when the Mekong reverses itself; during that phase, it can be very destructive, flooding fields and villages alike. What is a rickety boat in front of the fury of this unique river-lake system? Considering all the imponderables and risks involved in the journey, we had to abandon our idea of sailing all the way to Siem Reap and instead fly to Luang Prabang from Phnom Penh. Luang Prabang is also on the banks of the Mekong.

Wat Xieng Thang, Luang Prabang, Laos.

That turned out to be a fortuitous decision, especially because it gave us a couple of extra days in this quaint town. Luang Prabang is a relatively obscure town not yet on the itinerary of tour operators and hordes of tourists descending elsewhere in this region. But it is getting there. A former imperial kingdom that was subsequently colonised by the French, the town, naturally, is overrun by French expatriates and visitors. But the French have not interfered with the quintessential Laotian character of the town, leaving its architecture largely intact. Provincial French design was modified to suit the hot and humid tropical climate through the addition of verandahs, balconies and corridors to colonial villas, thus creating a unique blend that is at once French and Laotian.

In 1707, Luang Prabang became the capital of the independent kingdom of Luang Prabang. When France annexed Laos, the French recognised Luang Prabang as the royal residence of Laos. Eventually, the ruler of Luang Prabang became synonymous with the figurehead of the French Protectorate of Laos. When Laos achieved independence in 1945, Luang Prabang became the capital andSisavang Vang, the king of Luang Prabang, became the head of state of the Kingdom of Laos.

Monks receiving alms, in a silent ritual.

Luang Prabang, an eminently walkable small town, is home to some 30 gorgeous wats, all densely concentrated around the centre. There are Buddha statues galore, of every material, including stone, bronze and even gold. In fact, most wats host a veritable parade of Buddhas of various vintages. The palace museum, housing some stunning artefacts of the Laotian royal family, is the piece de resistance of this town. Its murals of mosaic, glass and precious stones are a feast for the eyes. But visitors to Laos come here for the serenity and tranquillity, to unwind and linger and soak in the sights, smells and sounds that have not been contrived for tourist enjoyment.

Prominent among the sights is the colour of ochre, of the robes of Buddhist novices who are ubiquitous. There is a group of very young novices sauntering down the high street, playfully giggling like normal kids; three elderly monks bobbing up the river in a canoe, their robes fluttering in the breeze; you encounter monks on the steep steps to the top of the hill, in the long sunny verandahs of the wats, in the colourful night markets, virtually wherever you go. You spot a monk fiddling with a camera under a gilded arch of a temple, his attention focussed intently on the gadget; a couple of monks fleet past on a scooter, their robes billowing behind them; yet another whispering into his mobile phone. There are monks on motorbikes and bicycles, monks in vans and rickshaws, monks on foot and monks meditating under trees.

In Luang Prabang, in the early hours of the morning, the devout waiting for the monks who come seeking alms.

But there is one special sight of the monks for which many throng Luang Prabang. In this town, an ancient Buddhist tradition is kept alive as monks file out of their dwellings in that solemn hour just before daybreak to receive alms from the devout. What they receive then presumably constitutes their meal for the day. The devout, who believe it is their duty to give alms to these renunciates, line the pavements of the town, their offerings spread out before them in leafy trays. Cooked sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, ripe bananas and home-made sweets fill the tray. Eager to participate in this timeless ritual, we too rose early and rushed to the high street. Even at this hour, there are vendors who sell trays of offerings and stools for us to perch on while we await the arrival of the monks.

Time seems to stand still as hundreds, comprising both the devout and the curious, await the arrival of the monks in hushed silence. It seems like eons before a flash of the orange robe on the horizon heralds their arrival. The stragglers come first in ones and twos and soon there is a steady stream, quite orderly and even-paced and in single file. There is a wave of excitement among the alms-givers, an intensity of purpose. The monks pad soundlessly past each of us, their lacquer tiffin boxes hanging from their left hands, their right hands outstretched to receive. The entire exchange is soundless and wordless. It is as though there is an unspoken compact not to tarnish the moment with sounds.

An ornate sculpture in one of the wats.

During the day, we wander around the various wats, admiring the intricate latticework in metal and stone and soaking in the serenity. Steeples and spires draped in gold leaf sparkle and shine. We climb the 350-odd steps to the top of the hill to admire the view of the lush green valley. In the evening, we make our way to Luang Prabang’s fabled night market, ablaze with lights and colours. Like everywhere else in this region, almost all the shopkeepers are women. The merchandise ranges from very beautiful hand-crafted umbrellas to embroidery, woodwork and silk scarves. Discarded bottles are magically transformed into works of art when draped in intricate wickerwork. It is sheer pleasure to weave through the stalls and admire objects that have not come out of a machine but have been painstakingly made by hand. Almost all of them are useful everyday objects embellished aesthetically in the best local tradition.

Our next stop is Vientiane, the capital of Laos, from where we fly to Bangkok and back home. The Mekong journey that took us through four South-East Asian countries has been an education in the coexistence of extreme contradictions and paradoxes. The river served up such varied fare: villages that were no more than a collection of miserable hovels to splendid temples that bespoke a prosperous and aesthetic civilisation. Along the same river were a people who created a grand edifice like the Angkor Wat and yet suffered the excesses of the bloodthirsty Pol Pot regime. The haunting sight of a stack of skulls in the museum in Phnom Penh is a stark contrast to the glorious Khmer palaces that dot the river bank.

A wall panel in the royal museum at Luang Prabang.

The Mekong showcased vibrant Vietnamese towns that are a testimony to the resilience of a people determined to leave behind their war-torn past to embrace development. But above all, the river revealed the relaxed and tranquil way of life of the Laotians, who seem to be in no hurry to catch up with a rapidly changing world around them. The one binding force in this stream of contradictions, ethnicities and religious and linguistic diversities is the Mekong, the river of life.

Wat Ho Prabang, the royal palace temple.

Decorative patterns around a window on the wall of Wat Xieng Thong.

Intricate Motifs on the roof of a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang.

Traditional architecture in Luang Prabang.

A wall panel in one of the wats in Luang Prabang.

Another temple in Luang Prabang: Quintessentially Laotian.

Cradle of civilisation: The Mekong in Luang Prabang.

Elaborate mural at the entrance to a wat.

An umbrella vendor at the night market.

The Nam Khan, the other river in Luang Prabang.

The palace museum.

School children in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang’s high street, at ease with its hybrid identity.

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