Lao Disagrees with Neighbors on Xayaburi Dam

International Rivers
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Decision Delay a Temporary Reprieve for Mekong River

Bangkok, Thailand: Government representatives from the four lower Mekong Basin countries agreed today that the decision on the Xayaburi Dam, the first dam proposed for the lower Mekong mainstream, be deferred and elevated to the Ministerial level. According to a press release from the Mekong River Commission (MRC), whilst Lao PDR proposed to proceed with the dam, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam called for an extension to the decision-making process citing concerns about transboundary impacts and knowledge gaps that require both further study and public consultation.

“Today the Mekong River has gotten a much-needed but temporary reprieve. The Mekong River is a valuable shared resource, and the Xayaburi dam’s transboundary impacts require agreement between the region’s governments and the public” said Ms. Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers. “A healthy Mekong River is central to sustainable development in the region, and simply too precious a resource to squander. Given the project’s inevitable transboundary impacts we urge the region’s governments to acknowledge the widespread concern of the public and civil society groups and indefinitely cancel the Xayaburi Dam project.”

"Given this decision and the scandalous exposé on Sunday that preliminary construction activities have already begun on the Xayaburi Dam, it is absolutely imperative that all construction activities are halted immediately and staff and equipment withdrawn from the site,” said Ms. Pianporn Deetes, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers.

The Xayaburi Dam, if built, 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.

“This delay is an acknowledgement of the dam’s far-reaching ramifications for the Mekong River ecosystem and millions of people in the region.  We expect the Lao government to respect the decision of the MRC Joint Committee,” said Chhith Sam Ath from NGO Forum on Cambodia, a Cambodian NGO.  “We hope the governments of the region have recognized that much more needs to be understood about the river and its rich fisheries before a rash decision is made that could threaten the integrity of the entire ecosystem and the livelihoods of millions of people” said Nguy Thi Khanh from WARECOD, a Vietnamese NGO.

The project has been subject to intense criticism regionally and internationally. Numerous fisheries experts and other scientists who recently reviewed the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment agreed that it is sub-standard and insufficient to accurately determine the project’s impacts, let alone stand a chance of mitigating them. Furthermore, the MRC Secretariat’s own Technical Review highlighted the grave environmental and social harms associated with the project, and also identified considerable knowledge gaps that remain and require comprehensive study. Fisheries scientists unanimously agree that the dam's impacts on fisheries cannot be mitigated and that a proposed fish ladder will be ineffective.

“We are happy to hear that the project has been delayed, but we will continue to fight for our Mother Mekong and for the health of the river’s fisheries, which provides so much to so many people in this region. We will continue to push the Thai government to cancel the agreement to buy power from the Xayaburi Dam,” said Jirasak Inthayos from Chiang Khong District, Chiang Rai Province, who joined a protest in Bangkok today against the Xayaburi Dam.

Widespread public opposition to the dam has been expressed both regionally and internationally over the past two years through various petitions and letters submitted to the regional governments and MRC. Yesterday, a letter from nearly 10,000 Thai villagers from eight provinces was submitted to the Lao Embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Prime Minister raising concerns about the project’s transboundary impacts and calling on the Lao and Thai governments to cancel the Xayaburi Dam. A petition signed by more than 2,300 people from around the world calling for the cancellation of the Xayaburi Dam was also presented to members of the MRC’s Council yesterday.  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 the Xayaburi Dam.

The Mekong River is central to the lives and culture of mainland Southeast Asia. As the world’s largest inland freshwater fishery, the Mekong River feeds millions of people throughout the region, and the river’s extraordinary aquatic biodiversity is second only to the Amazon. The Xayaburi Dam is the first of eleven large dams proposed for the lower Mekong River’s mainstream.

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