A field visit to the site of the proposed Xayaburi Dam has revealed that construction on the dam’s access road and work-camp is rapidly forging ahead, in spite of commitments by the Government of Laos to temporarily suspend the project. The trip to the Xayaburi Dam site on July 23rd revealed that a substantial construction camp has been established near Ban Talan village with at least a few hundred workers. An access road leading down to the dam site was also under construction and some land has been cleared without compensation provided to the owners.
“The Government of Laos appears to be set on unilaterally moving forward with the Xayaburi Dam in violation of international law and its commitments under the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers. “By building this dam, Laos is disregarding its regional commitments and robbing the future of millions of people in the region who rely upon the river for their livelihood and food security.”
Representatives from the four lower Mekong countries had originally been scheduled to meet in Phnom Penh this Friday, in order to discuss the next steps in the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), the regional decision-making process for the Xayaburi Dam. On Tuesday, the meeting was postponed indefinitely without explanation.
As input into the future meeting, International Rivers has submitted to the MRC and regional governments a legal opinion by the US law firm Perkins Coie, which states that “The Mekong Agreement precludes any unilateral decisions that threatens the river’s ecological balance or impacts the needs of people who rely on it.” The opinion concludes “Lao PDR’s unilateral action to prematurely terminate the PNPCA process, without allowing its neighbor countries to properly conclude that process, violates the Mekong Agreement, and therefore international law.”
“This hypocrisy needs to stop,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers. “If Laos is committed to cooperating with its neighbors on the project, then the government should stop all construction activities and start dealing honestly and truthfully.”
Less than two weeks ago, the Government of Laos was reported to have confirmed to a top U.S. diplomat for Asia that the dam’s suspension would continue, which was welcomed as a “forward-leaning” decision by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This came after Laos attempted to call the regional decision-making process complete at an Informal Donor Meeting of the Mekong River Commission, held on 24 June in Phnom Penh, despite calls from its neighbors for further study and consultation.
Only a few months earlier, on 19 April, the four governments had reached an agreement to defer the decision over the Xayaburi Dam for a future Ministerial-level meeting, which is expected to occur in October or November.
Despite the Xayaburi Dam’s construction forging ahead, the next steps in the regional decision-making process and how the knowledge gaps identified by the MRC’s Technical Review of the project will be filled remain unclear.
The Xayaburi Dam is currently the single greatest threat facing the Mekong River and its people. The project would forcibly resettle over 2,100 people and directly affect over 202,000 people. It threatens the extinction of approximately 41 fish species, including the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish and 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.
Vietnamese experts at a seminar last week presented research findings indicating that all 12 projects planned for the Mekong Mainstream could result in one billion dollars in annual losses to Vietnam, due to impacts on the rich and productive Mekong Delta.