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.