Posts tagged ‘Xayaburi dam’

August 24, 2014

Villagers call for say in Laos dam project

Villagers call for say in Laos dam project

Published: 23 Aug 2014 at 06.00

News Writer: Paritta Wangkiat

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Northern and northeastern villagers living along the Mekong River have called on the government to include them in the “prior consultation” process for the proposed Don Sahong dam in Laos. The villagers from eight provinces along the Mekong River, together with conservationists looking to preserve natural resources and Mekong-Lanna culture, submitted an open letter to the natural resources and environmental permanent secretary yesterday to express their concerns over the Don Sahong project.

“We’ve not yet heard anything about the project since it was agreed,” said Niwat Roykaew, a villager representative.

“Many villagers are concerned because they fear being excluded from participating in the decision-making process,” he said.

In June, Laos’ Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong told a Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting in Thailand that the Don Sahong project would be submitted for six months of prior consultation among the lower Mekong countries.

Laos had bowed to pressure to do so from the governments of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Mr Niwat said villagers feared events surrounding Laos’ controversial Xayaburi dam project would repeat themselves.

Villagers were told about the Xayaburi dam’s construction retrospectively and there was no mention of the dam’s environmental impacts, he added.

“That was not consultation, but notification,” he said. In their letter submitted yesterday, the villagers called for the Department of Water Resources (DWR), which provides secretarial services for the Thai MRC, to hold public consultations in all eight provinces with at least one to take place in a district adjacent to the Mekong River.

These consultations must be announced in advance by the government and by local administrative organisations on radio and in local newspapers to allow stakeholders to participate in them. Information from Laos on the Don Sahong project must be translated and provided to locals at least 30 days before the consultations, the letter said.

The network also demanded the DWR cancel studies into and monitoring of cross-border environmental impacts from hydroelectric power projects on the Mekong because they lacked local participation.

Laos signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysian firm Mega First Corporation Berhad for the Don Sahong hydroelectric dam project in 2006, the second of nine proposed by Laos for the lower Mekong.

The first was for the Xayaburi dam. In June, the Supreme Administrative Court accepted a case brought by 37 villagers living along the Mekong River against Thai government agencies buying power from the Xayaburi dam.


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 27, 2014

Laos to Hear Out Mekong Neighbors on Hydro Project

Don Sahong dam runs into trouble

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Thailand will reaffirm at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting today that Laos’ Don Sahong hydro-power dam project must undergo a consultation process of member states before Vientiane can move ahead with its construction.

Chote Trachoo, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, who heads the Thai team at the meeting, said Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are concerned the dam could have an adverse ecological impact on the Mekong River.

A transboundary impact assessment of the river and its surrounding environment will be needed before Laos can start the project, he said.

Don Sahong dam is Laos’ second planned hydro-power dam project after the controversial Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River which borders the four countries.

Laos last year signalled its intention to develop the Don Sahong hydro-power dam project in the Siphandone area in the southern part of the country through the MRC’s ordinary notification process, arguing the project will be built on one of the river tributaries and not on the main river itself.

However, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand disagreed with it, saying the project should undergo a more extensive “prior consultation process” by member states of the MRC, as the potential for impacts was significant.

An agreement could not be reached by the four countries and the issue has been left for the MRC council to decide.

Speculation is rife that a decision might be made at the MRC ministerial meeting in Bangkok today.

The 260 mega-watt Don Sahong dam project is about two times the size of Pak Moon dam in Thailand.

Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are concerned the dam will block fish migration in the Mekong River, which is an important natural habitat for a large number of fish.

Some environmentalists said that the dam, if built, will destroy the ecological system of the Mekong River.

Pianporn Deetes, of the International Rivers group, said the MRC must protect the Mekong River’s conservation by considering the impacts which the dam will have on the river.

Any decision must be made based on a clear study on transboundary impacts and the people’s participation.

Meanwhile, Save the Mekong Coalition yesterday said immediate action should be taken to cancel construction of Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams.

Construction of Xayaburi dam is already underway.


Laos to Hear Out Mekong Neighbors on Hydro Project

By Steve Herman

June 26, 2014 2:38 PM

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Laos has informed members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that it intends to move ahead with construction of the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam but consider project modifications based on concerns of neighboring countries.

In a change of stance, Lao government officials recently said they will cooperate with the MRC and development partners before advancing the large and controversial project.

Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project.

Laos previously insisted the hydroelectric dam’s placement — on a braid of the Mekong and not on the mainstream — meant the project proposal needn’t comply with the commission’s formal prior-consultation process.

MRC Chief Executive Officer Hans Guttman told reporters his secretariat will facilitate the process, but that Laos could simply ignore objections because “there is no formal democratic process.”

“It does allow for a more formal consideration of the potential consequences and allows the Lao government then to take that in consideration if that would be the case,” he said. “But the process in itself does not necessarily say that we vote on the issue in the end.”

Chote Trachu, Thailand’s permanent secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources, says his government appreciates Laos’s shift to more inclusive consultation process.

The International Rivers non-governmental organization calls the change “an opportunity for neighboring countries to have a voice in whether or not the project is built.” But in the meantime, the group says, Laos “should stop all construction at the site of the Don Sahong dam” so a true project assessment can be conducted.

Many environmental groups contend the hydroelectric project would destroy the river’s ecological system by blocking migration of fish.

Laos says it will continue work already started to improve channels in the project area to aid fish migration.

There is also substantial concern about the construction already progressing on another Mekong dam in Laos: The Xayaburi dam, financed by commercial banks in Thailand, is intended to produce about 1,300 megawatts of electricity, nearly all of it to be purchased by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

Last week, a consortium of conservation groups, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), sent a letter to the junta which now holds all executive and legislative power in Thailand asking for it to suspend or cancel the power purchase agreement for the dam.

The appeal calls the project “one of the potentially most damaging dams currently under construction anywhere in the world,” and one that “constitutes the greatest trans-boundary threat to date [regarding] food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the lower Mekong River basin.”

Cambodia and Vietnam have also objected to the Xayaburi project.

Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court this week agreed to consider a lawsuit against the dam’s power purchase agreement.

International Rivers on Thursday hailed the court’s move as “a clear indication of the adverse trans-boundary impact the Xayaburi Dam is likely to have on the Mekong River’s ecosystem and people, despite earlier claims made by the Lao government that the project would be sustainable.”

The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, originating in the mountains of Qinghai province in China.

The lower Mekong basin supports nearly 60 million people. The river’s fish are an important source of protein consumed by that population. And the sediment and nutrients at the river’s mouth are critical for Vietnam’s productivity in the delta.

There are plans to construct a total of 12 hydro-power projects on the lower sections of the Mekong’s mainstream. Proponents say the projects are critical for economic development in the booming region and will help alleviate poverty.


A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
June 25, 2014

Thai court agrees to hear case against Laos dam

Thai court agrees to hear case against Laos dam

More study ordered on environmental impact

<p>A fisherman checks his nets on the Mekong River in Siphandone, southern Laos (picture by International Rivers)</p>

A fisherman checks his nets on the Mekong River in Siphandone, southern Laos (picture by International Rivers)

Stephen Steele
Bangkok, Thailand  | June 24, 2014
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The Supreme Administrative Court of Thailand said today it will accept a lawsuit against the Xayaburi dam in Laos, ruling that further study was needed to examine the project’s potential environmental impact.
The court also dismissed a component of the lawsuit that sought to cancel a purchasing agreement between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the dam’s operators. EGAT is set to buy 95 percent of the power generated by the dam.
But the court said that EGAT had failed to properly notify the public about the transaction and cited the lack of an adequate environmental impact assessment as the reason for allowing the lawsuit to move forward. The omissions were a violation of the Thai Constitution, the court ruled in its 29-page decision.
The Xayaburi dam would be the first dam to be built along the lower Mekong River.
A group of about 40 Thai famers and fishermen from the Mekong region, who were plaintiffs in the case, were jubilant as they left the courtroom, but said more work was needed in their struggle to halt constrction of the dam.
“We have to stop this dam. If it continues, our livelihoods will be destroyed,” said Nichol Poljan, a rice farmer from Bung Khka district in northeastern Bueng Kan province.
Poljan told that he wants his village to avoid a similar experience of those affected by the Pak Mun dam in Ubon Ratchatani province. Fish stocks decreased by about 80 percent after that dam’s completion in 1994.
“It’s not a victory, but it’s giving us hope. We’re grateful that the court has given us a chance to make our case,” said Saranarat Oy Kanjanavanit, secretary general of the Green World Foundation, a Thai environmental organization.
Kanjanavanit said the dam would have a “devastating, far reaching impact” on millions of people who depend on the Mekong River for their survival throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Among the potential environmental catastrophes, the dam’s plans do not provide adequate pathways for migrating fish, Kanjanavanit said. In Cambodia, for example, eight of 10 fish species lay eggs in the flood plains of the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater body of water.
“If the Tonle Sap doesn’t flood, the fish can’t lay eggs,” she told
More than 600 species of fish are threatened, she added. Cambodia and Vietnam have also raised concerns about the Xayaburi dam and its impact on the region.
In May, the Cambodia Senate sent a letter to Mekong leaders calling on Thailand to cancel the purchasing agreement with the dam’s operators.
The letter said that the Xayaburi dam “constitutes the greatest trans-boundary threat to date to food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the lower Mekong River”.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said: “It’s clear that the signing of [the] Xayaburi Dam’s power purchase agreement most likely violated the constitutional rights of Thai people, as well as the prior consultation procedures of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, as no trans-boundary impact assessment was carried out nor was them adequate consultation.”
“We hope that the court will now suspend the power purchase agreement and call for a halt to the dam’s construction, in order for the environmental and health impact assessments to be carried out,” she said. “Thai banks should also cancel any further loans to the project, as the lawsuit clearly makes further investment questionable and opens them up to great reputational risk.”

Related reports

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


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