Laos’ energy minister announced last week that the country will sell energy supplied by the controversial Xayaburi Dam to Cambodia. It is already planning to sell power to Thailand, where last month a lawsuit was lodged to stop the country from buying electricity produced at the dam because of environmental and other concerns.
The Lao minister, Soulivong Daravong, also denied claims that Vietnam and Cambodia oppose construction of the dam. He insisted that the project will not be shelved.
His comments to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh on September 12 created confusion about the future of the $3.5 billion USD project, the first of 11 planned dams on the Lower Mekong River’s main stream.
Two months ago, at an ASEAN ministerial meeting, Laos’ Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith declared that the dam project was shelved pending further studies, winning praise from many delegates.
But the official Vientiane media told another story, saying the government will still let Thai developer Ch. Karnchang pursue "scheduled" building site action, including resettlement of villagers.
Independent analysts who assessed the development site confirmed that construction continues.
On September 9, speaking at a Xayaburi Dam workshop in Bangkok, Montree Chantawong of Thai-based NGO Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) said his estimates of those impacted by the dam are much higher than the Laotian government’s. His explanation: The dam will cause flooding both downstream and 150 kilometers upstream towards Luang Prabang.
“The Lao government has talked about only the 2,000 people in 10 villages that will be relocated, but there are more than 20,000 people in about 30 villages from the dam site all the way to Luang Prabang who will also be affected,” Radio Free Asia quoted him as saying.
The downstream flooding looks set to raise the river’s water level by at least 3 meters, he said.
The Xayaburi is just one of a series of hydropower dams planned for the Mekong. There are 11 planned dam projects on the Mekong mainstem, and another 77 dams planned in the basin by 2030.
Hydropower dams planned for the lower main stream of the Mekong River could devastate fish populations and with them the main protein source for 60 million people, according to a study by international conservation organization WWF and the Australian National University.