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Laos to Start Controversial Xayaburi Dam; Thailand Approves, WWF Warns of “Grave Danger”

vientiane, laos

On the same day that Thailand’s government come out in support of Laos’ decision to immediately begin construction of the controversial Xayaburi Dam on the Lower Mekong River, international environmental NGO WWF issued a warning that construction puts environment and livelihoods in “grave danger.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Vientiane, Laos on November 6, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichachaikul said: ''The Thai government is not opposed to the project.”

He added: “The Lao government has already conducted studies that show there would be no impact on the environment and fisheries.”

The Laotian government will begin construction with a groundbreaking ceremony on November 7 in honor of the 95th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, an important date in the history of communist rule.

The $3.5 billion USD project has been on hold for almost 12 months; the Laotian government originally agreed to delay construction until further environmental impact assessments could be conducted.

Laos and Ch Karnchang Plc, a leading infrastructure developer in Thailand and main contractor of Xayaburi Dam, spent an additional $100 million USD to revamp designs based on the assessment’s findings.

This redesign satisfied all parties, according to Lao Deputy Energy and Mines Minister Viraphonh Viravong.

''There is no need for their formal approval,'' the Bangkok Post quoted Viraphonh as saying.

However, WWF says criticism of the project has been increasing over the last year.

“Laos appears to be recklessly intent onforging ahead with construction before the agreed impact studies have been completed,” said Dr Li Lifeng, Director of WWF’s Freshwater Program. 

“If the region’s governments fail now to reaffirm their concerns on Xayaburi, they risk resting the future of the Mekong on flawed analysis and gaps in critical data that could have dire consequences for millions of people living in the Mekong River basin.”

As for Thailand’s support, Li said, “Thailand has a huge stake in the project and should not turn a blind eye to the potentially devastating consequences the project will wreak on their neighbors and their own people. Thailand must take responsibility and join calls to stop the dam construction and cancel its power purchase agreement until there is regional consensus to build the dam.”

The US government also reaffirmed its position this week that the dam project should proceed with caution since its long-term effects are not yet fully known.

“The United States recognizes the important role that dams can play in managing water resources to advance economic growth. At the same time, our own experience has made us acutely aware of the economic, social and environmental impacts that large infrastructure can have over the long-term,” the US State Department said in a statement on November 5.

“The extent and severity of impacts from the Xayaburi Dam on an ecosystem that provides food security and livelihoods for millions are still unknown.”