CHIANG RAI – Representatives from Datang (Lao) Pak Beng Hydropower Co Ltd and the Lao government yesterday met in Chiang Rai with the Network of Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces and other local people that could be affected by the Pak Beng Dam.
At the end of the meeting, local people said they did not believe that the proposed mitigation measures would significantly reduce the adverse effects of the dam.
They were there to discuss concerns on the Thai side of the river even as construction of the dam on the main branch of the Mekong River proceeded in Laos.
The Laos Energy Policy and Planning Department and the Chinese project owner, assured the Thai citizens that the dam would be properly built that mitigation measures would address their concerns about impacts on the river ecosystem, fish migration, water levels in the river, and the livelihoods of local people.
The local people were unconvinced, however, and said that their assurances were not credible and that the mitigation measures would fail to prevent problems.
Thongsuk Inthawong, the community leader of Ban Huai Leuk in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Kaen district, told the visitors that his community is close to the dam site and vulnerable to impacts.
“I do not believe their claims that this dam will have low impacts on the people in Thailand and the river, because they only presented models to mitigate the dam’s impacts, which do not match with reality,” said Thongsuk. “Moreover, most of their guarantees are groundless.”
He also expressed his doubt about assurance that his community will not be flooded after the dam construction is completed, saying that Datang did not provide credible proof of its claim.
Therefore, he urged Laos authorities and Datang to comprehensively study the impacts of their project and reconsider the plan to build this dam, which would trade the rich Mekong River ecosystem that sustains people from its headwaters to delta for only 912 megawatts of electricity.
Jansawaeng Bunnong, the deputy director-general of the Laos Energy Policy and Planning Department assured the local citizens that Pak Beng Dam had gone through all required procedures. They include procedures for notification, a prior consultation and agreement (PNPCA) process, and audits by international academics and experts in related fields. The feedback has been used to hone the project plan, improving it to reduce the possible impacts by, for example, incorporating fish ladders and sediment gates.
“This project will benefit both Laos and Thailand, as 90 per cent of the power will be sold to Thailand and benefit Thai industrial growth, while this project will also improve the quality of life for Lao people around the dam site,” Jansawaeng said.
The hydropower facility “will provide a secure and clean source of energy, and I believe that if the dam is carefully planned and properly built, all of the problems can be prevented,” he said.
The Pak Beng Dam is the northern most of eleven dams proposed for construction on the lower Mekong River mainstream. Located seven kilometers upstream of Pak Beng town, in Oudomxay Province, Northern Laos. The 912 MW project is expected to generate 4,700 GWh of electricity per year, of which 90% will be sold to Thailand and the remaining 10% to Laos’ state-owned utility, Electricite du Laos.
The rapid pace of dam development on the Lower Mekong mainstream – including the construction of the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams – has ignored calls from Mekong Governments, donors, scientists and concerned communities, for further studies, trans-boundary impact assessments and participatory regional decision-making.
There is an urgent need for regional governments to press the pause button on further dams on the Mekong mainstream, to take stock of projects already under construction, to conduct further studies on the trans-boundary and cumulative impacts of these projects and to re-consider the dangerous approach being taken towards dam development on the lower Mekong mainstream.
By Pratch Rijivanarom