Outrage Over Secret Xayaburi Dam Construction

International Rivers
Monday, April 18, 2011

Appeal to Region’s Governments to Reject Dam at Key Mekong River Commission Meeting Tomorrow

Mekong activists are outraged to learn that preliminary construction activities have already begun on the controversial Xayaburi Dam, the first dam proposed for the lower Mekong Mainstream, as reported in yesterday’s Bangkok Post. The report was published on the eve of tomorrow’s Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting in Vientiane, which is supposed to decide whether to approve the project.

“That project preparations have already commenced on the Xayaburi Dam demonstrates the company's and the Lao government's complete disregard for the findings of the MRC-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment report, the regional government decision-making process, which is not yet even complete, and the widespread public opposition to the dam. If the Lao government does not act in good faith and respect the regional processes that it has committed to, the future of the Mekong River and its people is indeed bleak,” said Ms. Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers.

The Bangkok Post reported that some people were already being resettled from the project area, and had been offered as little as US$15 in compensation.

"Offering such a pitiful amount of compensation to affected communities reveals how little the project developers acknowledge the impact the dam will have on peoples' lives. Many of the environmental and social impacts of the Xayaburi Dam will be beyond compensation for affected communities locally and for hundreds of thousands more upstream and downstream of the project site," said Ms. Pianporn Deetes, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers.

More than 100 villagers from eight provinces of Thailand are in Bangkok today to present a letter to the Lao embassy and the Thai Prime Minister. The letter, signed by nearly 10,000 Thai villagers, raises concerns about the project’s transboundary impacts and calls on the Lao and Thai governments to cancel the Xayaburi Dam.  “We are strongly opposed to this dam as it will cause suffering to our livelihoods and river.  We have come here today to demand that the Prime Minister refuse to purchase electricity from this dam and oppose its construction,” said Ittipol Kamsuk, a villager from Nongkhai Province.

A petition signed by more than 2,300 people from around the world also calling for the cancellation of Xayaburi Dam was presented to members of the Mekong River Commission’s Council and Joint Committee today. An earlier Save the Mekong petition of 23,110 signatures was submitted to the region’s Prime Ministers in October 2009, and in March 2011 a letter from 263 non-governmental organizations to the Prime Ministers of Lao PDR and Thailand also called for the cancellation of Xayaburi Dam.

In a further blow to the project, five international Mekong specialists have today added their voice to a growing chorus of experts who are condemning the Xayaburi Dam Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as flawed and sub-standard. The five specialists in the fields of fisheries, livelihood restoration, consultation and water quality expressed surprise that an EIA of such poor quality was being submitted for a project with such far-reaching impacts as the first dam on the lower Mekong Mainstream.

Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers, said “If built, the Xayaburi Dam would unleash massive ecological change to a river that feeds millions of people. It would be absolutely irresponsible for the governments of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to approve a project that has been so poorly studied, with such far-reaching implications for hundreds of thousands of people. Tomorrow, we hope the region’s governments do the right thing and cancel the Xayaburi Dam. The Mekong River is simply too precious a resource to squander.”

The Xayaburi Dam would forcibly resettle over 2,100 people and directly affect over 202,000 people, and could threaten the extinction of approximately 41 fish species, including the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish.  An additional 23 to 100 migratory fish species would be threatened through a blocked fish migration route. These impacts in turn will affect the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in the region.

Media contacts: 

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

Pianporn Deetes, Mekong Campaigner, International Rivers: + 66 814 220 111, pai@internationalrivers.org

More information: 


  • Dr. Phil Hirsch, Professor of Human Geography and Director of the University of Sydney’s Australian Mekong Resource Centre reviewed the consultation process in the EIA. Dr. Hirsch found that affected people in Lao PDR upstream of the reservoir and more than 10 kilometers downstream of the dam had no opportunity for comment on the dam and its impacts. Furthermore, affected people in the identified project impact area were merely surveyed rather than consulted. As a result, the EIA fails to meet even minimum standards for consultation and participation. Click here to read Hirsch's review.
  • Zeb Hogan from the University of Reno, Nevada, USA and a renowned expert on the Mekong Giant Catfish, found that the Xayaburi Dam will have serious negative impacts on the giant, imperiled fish of the lower Mekong River and may drive the Mekong’s two largest freshwater fish species, the Mekong Giant Catfish and the Giant Pangasius (also known as the “dog-eating” catfish), to extinction.  Click here to read Hogan's review.
  • Dr. Guy Lanza, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA said “The EIA is punctuated by a lack of clarity, includes many contradictory statements, and is not acceptable from a technical standpoint… The EIA is of such poor quality that it seems highly irresponsible that it is being offered to support the first dam proposed for the lower Mekong mainstream.” Dr. Lanza found that the EIA is incomplete and oversimplifies the dam’s impacts on ecological resources, including water quality, aquatic ecology, fisheries and public health. Click here to read Lanza's review.
  • David Blake, a PhD Candidate at the University of East Anglia, UK, with over twelve years of experience in fisheries and community development in Thailand and Laos, found that the pivotal importance of Mekong fisheries to local livelihoods is poorly understood and undervalued in the reports. The EIA assumes that impacts will be confined to just the immediate dam area and upstream reservoir, ignoring the far wider eco-hydrological impacts predicted by fishery experts for long distances up and downstream of the dam. As a result, communities lying further afield who will be impacted through diminished livelihoods are not currently considered in the compensation and mitigation proposals. Click here to read Blake's review.

The reviews were submitted to the Mekong River Commission as part of the regional consultation process for the Xayaburi Dam. MRC Joint Committee representatives from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia will be meeting this Tuesday to decide whether to approve the Xayaburi Dam.