Press Release | Concern as Pak Beng Dam Commences Prior Consultation

Monday, January 16, 2017


On Friday, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) held the first meeting of the Prior Consultation Process for the Pak Beng Dam – the third dam on the lower Mekong mainstream following the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. Officials from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand agreed at the Friday meeting on 20 December 2016 as the official start date for the procedure. The launch event comes two months after the government of Laos formally notified the MRC in November of its intention to move forward with the Pak Beng project. Project documents, including the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), are not yet publicly available.**

In response to the MRC’s announcement, International Rivers issues the following statement:

“We are greatly disappointed by the MRC’s announcement that the Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng Dam, the third on the Mekong mainstream, has already begun. Serious concerns regarding the decision-making and development of the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams still remain unresolved. As the MRC acknowledges, no agreement was reached by the regional governments on resolution of the Prior Consultation process for either project. Construction of both Xayaburi and Don Sahong has progressed at a rapid pace, but the outstanding concerns cannot be simply forgotten, and must be addressed before consideration of further hydropower projects on the lower Mekong River.

We believe it is irresponsible of the MRC to initiate the Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng Dam before a formal review of the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) has been undertaken and completed. In addition to critiques from participants in previous consultations, including Mekong communities, international donors responsible for its funding have identified clear limitations and problems with the Prior Consultation procedure. The Save the Mekong Coalition, along with legal experts and other stakeholders, has put forward recommendations to improve the process. Despite commitments from the MRC Secretariat, there is no evidence of any changes or improvements. Project documents are not yet publicly available weeks into the formal procedure, echoing the non-transparent process seen with previous projects.

The Pak Beng Dam would have significant transboundary impacts on communities in Thailand and throughout the Mekong River Basin, compounding impacts from existing projects. Scientific studies, including the MRC-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment on Mekong Mainstream Dams, indicate that building multiple dams on stretches of the river would greatly increase impacts on fisheries, sediment and hydrological flows. The ways in which dams are managed and operated will also have a bearing on the nature and scale of the impacts. Transboundary impact assessments, cumulative assessments and basin-wide studies are essential to inform regional decision-making over the development of dams on the Mekong mainstream. The current project-by-project approach, facilitated by the Prior Consultation procedure as it now stands, does little to address cumulative impacts and increased risks due to multiple projects being approved individually and moving forward one after another.

If the Government of Laos is sincere in operating in “good faith” and according to the spirit of cooperation required by the 1995 Mekong Agreement, they should suspend planning and construction activities on the Pak Beng Dam and transparently respond to the concerns of neighboring countries and regional communities over the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams, before initiating a new consultation process. The MRC and Mekong governments should prioritize the completion of the MRC Council study, agreed upon in 2011 by all four member countries to inform regional and basin-wide decision-making on Mekong mainstream dams. No further decisions should be made regarding dams on the lower Mekong mainstream until existing challenges, including how to ensure meaningful consultation with dam-affected communities, have been fully addressed.“

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The Pak Beng Dam is located seven kilometers upstream of Pak Beng town in Oudomxay Province, northern Laos. The 912MW project is the northernmost in a proposed cascade of eleven dams on the Mekong mainstream, and is estimated to resettle 6,700 people, with 25 villages in Laos and two in Thailand directly affected by the project. 90% of the electricity generated slated for Thailand and the remaining 10% will be sold to Laos’ state-owned utility, Electricite du Laos.

The 1995 Mekong Agreement states that the purpose of Prior Consultation is to allow the other member governments to discuss and evaluate the impact of the proposed project on their uses of water and any other affects, as the basis for arriving at an agreement. The Agreement states: “Prior consultation is neither a right to veto the use nor unilateral right to use water by any riparian without taking into account other riparians' rights.”

**UPDATE: On 17 January, after this press release was published, project documents for the Pak Beng Dam were made available on the MRC's website.