Cambodian Government Pressured to Prevent Laos Dam Construction

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Cambodian legislators will urge the government to take steps to prevent neighboring Laos from proceeding with its controversial Don Sahong Dam, located on the Mekong River near the border between the two countries.

Pol Ham, chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly Commission on Planning, Investment, Agriculture, Rural Development, Environment, and Water Resources, told Radio Free Asia that “our commission will meet again to discuss our next moves and what stance we should take. We have no choice but to pressure the government to take measures in order to prevent dam construction.”

His statements came after Laos’ parliament last week voted to move forward with the the $720 million USD, 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam, despite continued objections from fellow Mekong tates and environmental groups.

In a statement released last week, Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program director for NGO International Rivers, insisted, “The Don Sahong Dam is not a done deal. Until there is regional agreement amongst neighboring countries over the future of the shared Mekong River, the Don Sahong Dam should not proceed.”

“Regional governments have earlier made clear requests to the government of Laos that further study and time for regional consultation over the project is needed,” Trandem said. “Laos should abide by these requests by allowing a moratorium of at least two years, in order to carry out all of the necessary studies. In the meantime, all further contract negotiations, including for the project’s Power Purchase Agreement, should be halted.”

Another international environmental organization, WWF, called the Don Sahong Dam “an ecological time bomb that threatens the food security of millions and a population of critically endangered Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins. The dam will have negative impacts on the entire Mekong River ecosystem all the way to the Delta in Vietnam.”

The group has called on the Laotian government and the dam's developer, MegaFirst Corporation Berhad of Malaysia, to suspend construction until further studies are all completed and all legal procedures under the 1995 Mekong Agreement are met.

Negotiations between Laos and its neighbors over the dam fell apart in July, when the Laotian government responded to Vietnamese and Cambodian requests for further studies by announcing that the consultation period was over.

The meeting came amid reports that construction work was already under way at the dam site.

At a meeting last year, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) -- made up of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- asked Laos to halt construction of all Mekong River dams for 10 years to allow time to properly study their environmental and social effects on downstream communities.

Laos announced plans to build the Don Sahong Dam back in 2013, when it submitted a technical plan to the MRC. The Laotian government did not seek prior approval for the project from its neighbors, saying that since the dam is on a channel of the river and not its main stem, it does not require formal consultation under the MRC.