LAOS – Australian Scientist and Professor, Philip Hirsch is leading a call for Laos to halt a planned hydro-electric dam on the Mekong River that could damage fish stocks vital to the hundreds of thousands of poor in neighboring Cambodia.
Philip Hirsch, a professor at Sydney University’s School of Geo-sciences and the Mekong Research Centre, says the Mekong River, in its role as the “world’s most productive inland fishery” would be affected if the 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam was to go ahead.
“The overall hydrological impacts of Don Sahong will be quite small, but it has a major, major impact in Cambodia on the source of that country’s animal protein which the poor depend on for the bulk of their dietary requirements,” Hirsch said
The proposed Don Sahong Dam, is located in Laos’ Champasak Province and situated on the five-kilometer long Hou Sahong, one of the ‘braided channels’ of the Mekong River about two kilometers upstream of the Lao-Cambodia border.
The Don Sahong dam is one of eleven dams planned for the lower Mekong River. Laos has already pressed on with construction of the US$3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos despite criticism from environmentalists and donor countries, including the US and Australia.
A study by the Mekong River Commission – an intergovernmental body bringing together Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, has warned that damming the river could reduce fishery by 300,000 tonnes a year, having a major impact on a million people, especially in Cambodia.
Hirsch says the go ahead the Xayaburi Dam has raised fears of an “unstoppable momentum” it would be “more difficult not to be build a second, third until you’ve got all eleven” dams.
“When you have all eleven then the hydrological as well as the ecological impacts are significant in Cambodia and all the way down to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam,” he said.
A meeting by the MRC in January delayed a final decision on the dam, calling on ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to further appraise the project. Hirsch said the delay marked a “silver lining” in the Mekong co-operation framework.
He said Cambodia and Vietnam have realized the potential impacts from the dam and have put in objections.
The issue will now be referred to the ministerial or political level, “and a lot depends on what happens at the council meeting”, so far unscheduled.
“It’s still a ways to go,” Hirsch said.