Laos' neighbors unhappy with Xayaburi dam construction

Xayaburi Dam

A number of governments and organizations used the 19th Mekong River Commission (MRC) Council Meeting this past week to again voice their displeasure with Laos' 1,285-MW Xayaburi hydro project.

The US$3.5 Xayaburi billion run-of-river plant is the first of 11 projects proposed for the Lower Mekong River and part of Laos' plan to become the "battery of the region".

And though Poyry Energy Business Group was selected in November 2012 to supervise the complex's construction, some members of the MRC and their international partners have expressed concern that the prior consultation process had not been adequately completed.

"It is our consensus that building dams on the mainstream of the Mekong may irrevocably change the river and hence constitute a challenge for food security, sustainable development and biodiversity conservation," a statement from the MRC's international partners said.

The MRC's international partners -- which include the European Union, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank -- are concerned that Laos has not addressed the concerns of other MRC members.

The MRC was founded in 1995 and consists of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The council is intended to provide a forum for cooperative use of the Mekong River, though the Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese representatives said Laos did not complete its due-diligence before moving forward with the Xayaburi's construction.

"Each riparian country should show their responsibility by assuring that any future development and management of water resources proposed in the basin should be considered with due care and full precaution based on the best scientific understanding of the potential impacts," Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Nguyen Thai Lai said.

Sources said divisions between MRC members were increased following a Special Joint Committee Meeting in April 2011 at which Vietnam proposed a 10-year moratorium on decisions over mainstream dams on the Mekong.

The Laotian government appeared to accept Vietnam's proposal and announced it would suspend development of the Xayaburi hydro project during the 18th MRC Council Meeting in December 2011 pending further impact studies.

U.S.-based advocacy group International Rivers reported it had found evidence that Laos was secretly continuing development of the project, however, and in October 2012, the Andritz Group announced it had been awarded a $322 million contract by CH. Karchang Public Co. Ltd. to supply electromechanical equipment for the plant.

Laos now says a coffer dam will be complete in May with construction of the Xayaburi to begin in full shortly after.

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