CHIANGRAI TIMES – Conservationists expressed surprise yesterday at the announcement that construction of the Xayaburi dam, on the Mekong River in northern Laos, could begin before the end of this year. Viraphonh Viravong, director-general of the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Electricity Department, made the unexpected statement during an interview in Hanoi last Thursday, according to a Bloomberg report. The announcement casts doubt on a planned meeting of Mekong-region countries in November on the ongoing debate. “I don’t think Laos will start construction until it is discussed,” Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said yesterday.
The announcement was surprising, he said. His committee proposed a meeting in November after talks earlier in the year failed to yield an agreement. Te Navuth said he still expected to discuss the dam in November with regional counterparts. Surasak Glahan, spokesman for the Mekong River Commission in Laos, said last week’s announcement was not official. “This information has never been communicated in formal channels,” he said. Millions of people in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam rely on the Mekong for food.
The Xayaburi dam, if built, will block critical fish migration routes to the Mekong’s upper stretches as far upstream as Chiang Saen in northern Thailand that is an important spawning ground for the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish. The dam would destroy the river’s complex local ecosystems that serve as important fish habitats for local and migratory species. The dam would also disrupt sediment and nutrient cycles in the Mekong River, which has already been partially affected by the Upper Mekong dams in China.