Press Release | Meaningful Reform and Basin-Wide Studies Needed Before Advancing New Mekong Dam

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Bangkok, Thailand, Today marks the beginning of a two day regional stakeholder forum organized by the Mekong River Commission to discuss the MRC Council Study and Prior Consultation Process for the Pak Beng Dam, the third dam proposed for construction by the Government of Laos on the Lower Mekong mainstream.

International Rivers has closely monitored the Mekong River and decision-making processes on the development of hydropower dams in the Mekong Basin. In advance of the MRC Regional Stakeholder Forum, we release the following statement:

The haste to advance the Pak Beng Dam Prior Consultation process, when significant concerns regarding regional decision-making and construction of the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams on the lower Mekong mainstream remain outstanding, further undermines the integrity of efforts to equitably and sustainably manage the Mekong Basin for the benefit of all who live along the River.

The initiation of Prior Consultation for the Pak Beng Dam is premature. It ignores important lessons from previous regional consultation processes, including the need for comprehensive project studies and sufficient time to enable meaningful evaluation of both the potential costs and benefits of projects by Mekong countries and their people.

As it stands, the Prior Consultation process is being carried out in the absence of political will from riparian countries to ensure “good faith” efforts towards achieving agreement about the development of proposed projects on the lower Mekong mainstream. Before further projects are evaluated through the Prior Consultation process, project developers and key stakeholders have a responsibility to respond to the accountability gaps surrounding the construction of the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams, including concerns raised directly by neighboring countries in their reply forms. For both projects, this included requests for baseline information and transboundary impact assessments, for example, which have not been carried out. Rather than stakeholders having to demonstrate the impacts of hydropower projects, the burden of proof that projects will not cause “significant harm” and clear evidence of the efficacy of proposed mitigation measures, must lie with the developers and be open to public scrutiny.

The current pace of hydropower development on the Mekong River is unsustainable and shortsighted. The project-by-project approach fails to take into account the cumulative impacts of multiple dams along the Mekong River mainstream and the growing destruction as each new dam is built. The Pak Beng Dam cannot be evaluated in isolation, but must be considered alongside the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams that are already under construction, together with upstream dams on the Lancang River (Upper Mekong) in China and proposed future projects on the Lower Mekong mainstream, in particular the Pak Lay and Sanakam Dams.

While the MRC does not have decision-making power over any given project, it has a mandate to promote cooperation for the equitable and sustainable use of the Mekong River. Given the importance of the Mekong to the region’s people, this means developing a credible, participatory and transparent process, which ensures that the voices of affected Mekong communities are addressed and that decision-making on Mekong dams is based on basin-wide comprehensive studies, including the MRC’s own Council Study.

The MRC has acknowledged a need for review of its procedures, and has documented lessons learned and recommendations from the experience of previous projects. However, these recommendations were not shared publicly or comprehensively addressed before embarking on a new Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng Dam. The MRC’s review must be more than window-dressing – it must meaningfully engage with the weaknesses and deficiencies identified before any further projects move forward.

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The Pak Beng Dam is the third hydropower project proposed for construction on the mainstream of the lower Mekong River. The dam would be located in Pak Beng District, Oudomxai Province, northern Laos, roughly 530km downstream from the Jinghong Dam, the southern most of the hydropower projects on the upper Mekong, and 258km upstream from the Xayaburi Dam, which is currently under construction in Laos. The initiation of the PNPCA process for the Pak Beng Dam was announced on January 13, following a meeting of the MRC Joint Committee. The start date for the PNPCA process was set as December 20, 2016. More information on the Pak Beng Dam

The MRC Council Study was initiated based on an agreement made between all four MRC member countries at the December 2011 Council Meeting, in order to study the sustainable management and development of the Mekong River. The study is intended to fill critical knowledge gaps in understanding the environmental, social and economic impacts of water resources development on the Mekong River, including the impacts of mainstream hydropower projects. More information on the MRC Council Study.