Fate of Mekong River Hangs in the Balance

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In less than two weeks, the Governments of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam will meet to discuss whether to approve the massive Xayaburi Dam, proposed for the Mekong River’s mainstream in Northern Lao PDR. Despite the advanced stage of decision-making, the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was released to the public just days ago.

"It’s little wonder that the EIA report hasn’t been made public until now given its abysmal quality,” says Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers. “The Mekong River is an international river and an international-quality EIA should be the minimum expected to inform decision-making. Yet the EIA report lacks sufficient technical information, is riddled with analytical holes and only considers impacts 10 km downstream of the project, despite studies commissioned by the Mekong River Commission recognizing that impacts will be felt basin-wide. This is appallingly irresponsible and reckless."

Some of the major flaws in the Xayaburi EIA include the following:

  • Fisheries losses: The Xayaburi Dam’s EIA lacks even basic information on fisheries, including species diversity, migration patterns, ecological needs, and anticipated impacts. Global experts have already stated that the impact to fisheries from Mekong mainstream dams cannot be mitigated, and the EIA report fails to provide any convincing evidence otherwise.
  • Ecosystem and biodiversity damage: While the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report, released in October 2010, identifies at least 41 fish species, including the iconic Mekong Giant Catfish, at risk of extinction by mainstream dams in this stretch of the river, the company’s EIA report does not even identify endangered or endemic species in the vicinity of the proposed dam.
  • Transboundary impacts: The EIA report only considers impacts within the impoundment area and 10 km downstream of the project. According to the MRC’s SEA report, transboundary ecosystem and social impacts are expected to be felt – for example on migratory fisheries – if the dam is built.
  • Agriculture losses: While the Mekong River’s fertile sediment load is known to be important to the region’s fisheries and rich agricultural productivity, the EIA report fails to even consider the dam’s impacts to sediment movements.
  • Impacts on livelihoods: While the SEA report estimates that 2,100 people will be resettled and a further 202,000 people directly affected by the Xayaburi Dam, the EIA scarcely considers how the fishery and agricultural loses will impact livelihoods, food security and local economies.

Despite the clear public opposition to the dam expressed over the past two years, including by community, governmental officials and NGO representatives in a series of MRC-sponsored meetings on the project held in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in early 2011, the Government of Lao PDR and the Thai dam consortium have been actively working behind the scenes to advance the project. A press release by the project sponsor, Ch Karnchang, on March 1, 2011 declared that the project’s Concession Agreement had been signed with the Lao Government.

“The MRC’s regional decision-making process on the Xayaburi Dam – called the Procedures for Notification and Prior Consultation (PNPCA) process – has already been widely criticized for its lack of information disclosure and quality of public meetings,” says Ame Trandem. “That the concession agreement has been signed even before the PNPCA process is complete demonstrates the Lao Government and project developer’s weak interest in public concerns about the dam’s impacts and consequences.

“As this flawed and erroneous process is gambling with the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in the region, the MRC’s funders should step up to the plate and demand a halt to the Xayaburi Dam decision-making process until an informed and responsible decision can be taken,” concluded Ms. Trandem.

Today is the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams. In Thailand’s Sakon Nakhon and Mae Hong Son Provinces and in Hanoi, public forums will be held this week calling on regional governments to refuse to gamble on the tragedy posed by the Xayaburi Dam. The week’s events opened with a spiritual ceremony for the Mekong River and a community forum held on March 12 in Pak Chom district in Loei Province in Northern Thailand.

“As local people have already suffered from dams built upstream in China and watched the ecosystem change, we are afraid that the Xayaburi Dam will bring more suffering to our livelihoods,” said Kamol Konpin, Mayor of Thailand’s Chiang Khan municipality at the March 12 event. “Our lives and livelihoods depend on the health of the Mekong River.”

The final decision on the Xayaburi Dam is expected to be made by April 22.

Additional Information:

Click here for a preliminary review report on the Xayaburi Dam’s Environmental Impact Assessment report

Click here for a fact sheet on the Xayaburi Dam

Click here for a fact sheet on the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment report

Notes for editors:

Since 2007, eleven dams have been proposed for the Mekong River’s mainstream. The Xayaburi Dam is a US$3.5 billion, 1,260 megawatt project proposed by Thai construction company Ch. Karnchang and is the project at the most advanced stage of planning. If built, the Xayaburi Dam would export over 95% of its electricity to Thailand and would be financed by Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank, Siam Commercial Bank, Bangkok Bank, and Krung Thai Bank. A Memorandum of Understanding for a Power Purchase Agreement was signed between the Government of Laos and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in July 2010.

In October 2010, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report on the mainstream dams, commissioned by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), recommended a ten year deferment in decision-making over the Mekong mainstream dams, including the Xayaburi Dam, due to an incomplete state of knowledge and the huge environmental and social risks. Click here to read the SEA report.