Decision on Laos hydro-electric dam not yet made

Published: 19/04/2011 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge – The Mekong River Commission (MRC) on April 19 didn’t release any decision on the Laos controversial Xayaburi dam. More consultation at ministerial levels are needed, according to an MRC announcement.

Giant Mekong catfish is facing extinction caused by hydro-electric dams and pollution.

“Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam today agreed that a decision on the prior consultation process for the proposed Xayaburi hydropower project be tabled for consideration at the ministerial level, as they could not come to a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project,” the announcement says.

The Xayaburi project, located in northern Laos, is the first of the 12 hydro-power plants that are scheduled on the lower Mekong Basin. The Mekong River runs from China through four downstream countries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which are member of the MRC. Since 1995, member countries of the MRC agreed that any country that wants to build dams on the Mekong River must have consultation with related countries.

At the MRC’s meeting in Laos on April 19, Laos insisted the consultation process is complete, while other lower Mekong countries raised concerns on impacts and gaps in technical knowledge and mitigation measures.

At the meeting, Laos insisted there was no need to extend the process, since this option would not be practical, while trans-boundary environmental impacts on other riparian countries are unlikely.

“We appreciate all comments, and we will consider accommodating all concerns,” said Viraphonh Viravong, head of the Laos Delegation.

Laos proposed to end the prior consultation process, noting that an extension to conduct further studies will require much more time than 6 months and it will not be possible to satisfy all parties’ concerns.

The Xayaburi project will comply with the MRC Secretariat Preliminary Design Guidance and best practices based on international standards, said the Lao delegate, adding major impacts on navigation, fish passage, sediment, water quality and aquatic ecology and dam safety can be mitigated at acceptable levels.

Other MRC Member Countries, however, expressed a range of concerns on the proposed scheme and provided some further recommendations.

Cambodia said that more time may be required for the notifying country and its project developer to fulfill gaps in technical requirements, and for effective consultations among the member countries and with the public.

Cambodia stated that there was a need for a comprehensive study and assessment of trans-boundary and cumulative environmental impacts. Cambodia added that the enabling countermeasures and solutions to mitigate such impacts need to be clearly developed, while other measures such as benefit sharing to affected countries, trans-boundary environmental management and social funds need to be jointly put into practice.

“With the limited information related to the project, Cambodia therefore suggested the prior consultation period be extended,” said the Cambodian representative.

Thailand responded that in moving the project forward, precautionary and mitigation measures should be conducted for the sake of the people and environment in the region.

Citing concerns being raised in its national consultations on environmental degradation, such as losses of fisheries and wetlands, and the lack of clearly-identified mitigation measures, Thailand said it was concerned about the way of life of the people depending on the river.

Thailand also raised concerns from public forums that the sustainability of the project is still questionable, and that the stipulated timeframe for the prior consultation process is insufficient and should be extended.

“Therefore, we would like to see that public views and concerns are well taken into consideration,” said Jatuporn Buruspat, Director General of Thai Department of Water Resources in the official response to the project.

Meanwhile, Vietnam expressed its deep and serious concerns for the lack of adequate, appropriate and comprehensive assessments of trans-boundary and cumulative impacts that the project may cause to the downstream, especially in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam recommended the deferment of this and other planned hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream for at least 10 years.

“”The deferment should be positively seen as a way to provide much needed time for riparian Governments to carry out comprehensive and more specific quantitative studies on all possible cumulative impacts,” emphasized Dr. Le Duc Trung, Head of the Vietnamese delegation.

Vietnam added, that the limited timeframe of the consultation process was inadequate to facilitate the achievement of the process. “The deferment would enable the country to secure better understanding and the confidence of the public and local communities,” said Mr. Duc Trung.

The 1995 MRC Mekong Agreement established the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), which states that Member Countries must notify the MRC’s Joint Committee in the event they wish to engage in any major infrastructure developments (such as hydropower schemes) on the mainstream Mekong or tributaries, particularly if those developments may have significant trans-boundary impacts on people or the environment downstream.

The PNPCA process itself is the formal mechanism in place to enable one or more individual Member Countries to submit an individual project for the 4-country regional consideration. In the case of the Xayaboury dam project, the Government of Lao PDR notified the MRC to begin the PNPCA process.

The MRC received the notification of the Xayaburi hydropower development project from the Government of Lao PDR in September last year. Under the PNPCA, the four countries consult each others on the proposal and then reach a conclusion, within six months since the notification, on how to proceed with the project.

Since the notification, the countries have conducted national consultations with related stakeholders including potentially affected communities to gauge their views and perspectives on the project. The MRC Secretariat also commissioned a team of environmental experts to review documents including the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by the Government of the Lao PDR.

This consultation process is one of a number of protocols in the 1995 Mekong Agreement to promote cooperation in sustainable management of the basin’s water resources and avoid regional disputes developing.

The Xayaboury hydropower project would be the first such project on the Mekong mainstream downstream of China, and would be capable of generating 1260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for export to Thailand.

The Xayaboury dam is located approximately 150 km downstream of Luang Prabang in northern Lao. The dam has an installed capacity of 1,260 MW with a dam 810 m long and 32 m high and has a reservoir area of 49 km2 and live storage of 225 Mm3. The primary objective of the Xayaboury dam project is to generate foreign exchange earnings for financing socio-economic development in Laos. The developer is Ch. Karnchang Public Co. Ltd. of Thailand who negotiated a tariff agreement with EGAT in July 2010.

The MRC acts as a facilitating body for this PNPCA process. It is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members include Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. In dealing with this challenge, the commission looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management and preserving important ecosystems.

The Special Session of the MRC Joint Committee is held aiming to reach a conclusion on the prior consultation process for the Xayaburi project. The three notified countries provided official responses to the proposal to the meeting.


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