Mekong Neighbours Challenge Laos Over Luang Prabang Dam Data

LUANG PRABANG, Laos

The government of Laos has been challenged by neighbouring countries and NGOs about provision of data around environmental assessmnet of the Luang Prabang dam in the lower Mekong.

At a 6 February consultation meeting on the proposed 1,460 megawatt dam stakeholders raised concerns and suggested further in-depth studies to evaluate the potential transboundary environmental and social impacts and explore possible mitigation measures that could be taken.

Official representatives from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam concurred. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) reported that Sok Bunheng of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee said: “Extended studies on overall social, economic and environmental issues of cumulative and transboundary impacts, including those on fisheries, should be further conducted to ensure that negative impacts from the dam are minimal. Baseline data of sediment transport at the dam site should be surveyed, monitored and documented properly before construction of the proposed dam commences".

The Thailand National Mekong Committee asked for “mitigation measures for supporting affected people” further suggesting that the developer post insurance to meet necessary compensation claims.

The Vietnam Committee focused on the water resource itself and the effect on the Mekong Delta, requesting consideration of practical alternative power sources including solar and wind technology and addition of mitigation measures to address issues such as river bank erosion, general lack of water resources, and changes in the height of the delta.

While the Laos government appeared to value the comments, there is little capacity for other countries to block construction of the dam. "We're working closely with the developer and its international engineering teams to further improve the design and mitigation measures following the feasibility stage," Laos Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Saynakhone Inthavong said.

The 1,460 megawatts of electricity from the dam is intended for export to Thailand and Vietnam; construction is expected to commence within a year and to be completed in 2027. The Luang Prabang dam will join the 1,200 MW Xayaburi dam and the smaller Don Sahong dam on the Lower Mekong that were inaugurated late last year, after protracted opposition from environmentalists.

Residents of villages in the region of the proposed construction claim they do not know if and when they will be relocated. NGOs would like more data on the dam’s potential economic impact on the downstream countries, stating that the dam is likely to have a devastating impact on agriculture and fish stocks.

A consultation process will run through April 2020, when a technical advisory body of the MRC will make its recommendations to the MRC Joint Committee for decision.

An Pich Hatda, the MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, said these stakeholders’ concerns and recommendations gathered during the consultation would be reflected in the technical assessments of the proposed project. At that point, it will be up to the Laos government to attempt to implement measures to avoid, minimise or mitigate the transboundary impacts.

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