263 NGOs Call on Mekong Governments to Cancel Plans for Xayaburi Dam

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bankgkok, Thailand – 263 non-governmental organizations from 51 countries submitted a letter yesterday urging the Prime Ministers of Lao PDR and Thailand to immediately cancel the proposed Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River’s mainstream in Northern Laos.  

The letter urges the Government of Lao PDR to cancel its plans to build the project and for the Thai Government to end plans to import its electricity.  The letter is submitted in advance of the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) 33rd Joint Committee Meeting, scheduled for 25-26 March in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where the four member countries are expected to make a preliminary decision on whether or not to proceed with the dam.  

“As a river of global significance, we are urging the Governments of Laos and Thailand to call a stop to the destructive Xayaburi Dam,” said Pieter Jansen of Both ENDS.  “If the project proceeds, the MRC’s regional decision-making process will lose all public credibility through its complete disregard to the dam’s massive public opposition.  It will also demonstrate that decision making has not been based on holistic river basin management despite the compelling scientific evidence of the dam’s impact to the Mekong River’s ecosystem and the millions of people who depend on it for their livelihoods and food security.”   

“The dam’s Environmental Impact Assessment report, released just one week ago, is totally inadequate,” says Ame Trandem of International Rivers. “It lacks basic yet critical technical information, is riddled with analytical flaws, and fails to consider transboundary impacts, despite other MRC-commissioned reports demonstrating that the dam’s high environmental and social impacts will be irreversible and will be felt basin-wide. Given the quality of the EIA and the anticipated impacts, if this project were to go ahead it would be unimaginably irresponsible.”

As the EIA report was released one week ago, the limited public meetings facilitated by the MRC that took place in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam last month were unable to comment on it. As no meeting was organized in Laos, people there were not even given the opportunity to voice their opinion on the sparse information that was made available.

The letter emphasizes the massive public opposition already expressed throughout the Mekong region.  Since 2009, tens of thousands of people have submitted petitions and letters to the region’s Prime Ministers and to the Mekong River Commission calling for the Mekong River to remain free-flowing and for Thailand not to purchase electricity from the dam.  International NGOs in Australia, Finland and the U.S.A. have also raised concerns with their own governments who are regional donors, highlighting the failures of the regional decision-making process to meet the standards of transparency, accountability and participation expected of their donor-supported projects.

"The Thai government considers dams as a type of project that can be harmful to the environment, so how can the Xayaburi Dam be built without questioning and fully understanding how it will impact millions of people basin-wide?” said Chanida Chanyapate Bamford of Focus on the Global South.  “A new type of governance is needed for such commons, in which project affected communities have a say. The sustainability of livelihoods should definitely be a priority criterion in determining whether this dam should be built.”

“Who will actually benefit from the electricity produced from this dam? In an era of climate change and a historical tendency to over-forecast electricity needs in Thailand, the governments must re-think building the dam in terms of its costs to native eco-systems, food and water security, and local livelihoods.  Making a trade-off between the future well-being and developmental potential of the regions’ peoples for electricity that can be generated through more sustainable technologies is completely unacceptable," said Shalmali Guttal of Focus on the Global South. "The Xayaburi Dam will trigger an ecological crisis of tremendous proportions. We urge the Prime Ministers of Laos and Thailand to show leadership by cancelling this project.”

The Xayaburi Dam is the most advanced of eleven large dams proposed for the Mekong River’s lower mainstream since 2007.  The project would resettle around 2,100 people and directly affect a further 202,000 people living near the dam due to impacts on the river’s ecology and fisheries.  The dam threatens the extinction of more than 41 fish species, including the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish.  Wider losses to the river’s biodiversity and aquatic resources will likely impact the lives of millions more people throughout the region.

In accordance with the 1995 Mekong Agreement, a decision on mainstream development must be agreed upon by the Mekong River Commission’s member countries of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.  While a preliminary decision on the Xayaburi Dam is expected to be made this week, a final decision is expected to be made by April 22nd.

Click here to read the NGO letter that was sent.

Media contacts: 

Media contacts:

Pieter Jansen, Programme Officer of Strategic Cooperation, Both Ends, Email: pj@bothends.org or Tel: +31 620 712 191.

Shalmali Guttal, Coordinator of the Defending and Reclaiming the Commons Programme, Focus on the Global South, Email: s.guttal@focusweb.org or
Tel: +855 17 489763.

Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner, International Rivers, Email: ame@internationalrivers.org or Tel: +66 868 822 426.