CHIANG RAI – Residents of the eight provinces of Thailand bordering the Mekong River have filed for a court to stop construction of the Xayaburi dam in the lower part of the reservoir.
The members of the Network of Thai People have asked the Administrative Court to suspend a power-purchase agreement (PPA) signed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to buy 95% of the electricity to be generated by the hydroelectric dam that has stoked environmental and economic concern from Vietnam and Cambodia.
On 24 June, the judges allowed an appeal by the inhabitants of 37 villages, which call on the Egat to respect the rights of citizens and the Constitution of 1997. This includes transparent public hearings, as well as health and environmental impact assessments before signing power purchase deals.
Welcoming the proceedings, the Administrative Court emphasized that the people “have every right” to defend their environment and way of life, which must be “balanced” with a healthy economic development. The court also cited the 1995 Mekong Agreement which requires the public to be notified about projects affecting the current in the Mekong River before they can proceed.
Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer and member of the Save the Mekong coalition, made up of activists, citizens and experts, recalls the great “risks” associated with the system and hopes construction will be halted pending “until the final decision of the judges”. Moreover, the coalition claimed Egat has “grossly overestimated” the amount of electricity Thailand needs, and “has not studied potentially cheaper or greener electricity generating options.”
The US$ 3.5 billion, 1.26-megawatt hydropower project is in its early phase with less than 10 per cent complete. Although located in a remote area in northern Laos, the dam has already displaced more than 2,100 villagers. Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have called for a ten-year moratorium without success. Meanwhile, there has been a 300,000 tonnes drop in fish catch. The Mekong River starts in the Tibetan plateau, flows through China’s Yunnan province until it reaches Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. About 65 million people live along the river, relying on fish farms and the natural fishery, which is worth an estimated US$ 3 billion. Considered the second most important river in the world in terms of biodiversity, the 4,880-km long Mekong is threatened by a number of projects involving dams and hydroelectric power plants.