HANOI – Activists have urged Cambodia and Vietnam to use the Mekong River Commission’s second high-level summit this weekend to take a stand against a controversial dam project in Laos.
The prime ministers of the four member countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – are to meet Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City to review development projects for the Mekong river, including the divisive Xayaburi dam in Laos.
Thirty-nine non-governmental organisations issued a joint declaration this week urging Thailand, which is to be the prime consumer of the dam’s electricity, to cancel the agreement under which a private Thai company is building the project.
“Laos is marching ahead with construction without agreement among its [other] neighbours,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, leading environmental activist and former Chairman of Thailand’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, announcing the joint declaration.
Cambodia and Vietnam have not approved the dam, which “threatens the health and productivity of the Mekong River and Delta, which could leave millions facing food insecurity,” he said.
The joint declaration said the project was “one of the potentially most damaging dams currently under construction anywhere in the world” and that an assessment looking into its environmental impact “does not meet any internationally-accepted standards.”
Countries on the Mekong are under no legal obligation to consult with the others before building dams on their territory, but the impact of hydro projects, especially downstream, is massive.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) was designed as a forum to build consensus over management of the waterway, but objections already raised over dam projects have failed to stop them from going ahead.
Laos pushing ahead with the Xayaburi project, with Thai help, “severely weakens” the legitimacy of the MRC, Kraisak said. Laos is also going ahead with another controversial dam, the Don Sahong in the south of the country.
But this does not mean that the commission is failing in its mandate, said Hans Guttman, chief of the MRC secretariat.
“The MRC does at least provide a forum where the countries can discuss issues and express opinions even if they do not resolve everything,” he told dpa.
Matthew McCartney, principal researcher in Laos for the International Water Management Institute, concedes that the forum’s success in building consensus is lower than many donors would wish.
“But I think that without it there would almost certainly be less cooperation,” he said.
“My feeling is that the Xayaburi design was modified to mitigate some of the environmental impacts, in large part because of the MRC,” McCartney said.
Fish ladders and fish elevators are included in the dam designs.
“With the Don Sahong dam, it seems that many of the environmental impacts – including on dry season fish migration – can be mitigated,” McCartney added.
The summit at the weekend will also look at the impact of climate change on people living in the Mekong Delta, and how countries can work together to mitigate it.
Tens of millions of people risk seeing their livelihoods hit by the double risk of rapid development – including dams – and climate change, the MRC’s Guttman said.
The Lower Mekong supports nearly 60 million people with its fisheries and is home to a number of endangered species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin and the Giant Catfish. – Bangkok Post