Laos should consult Mekong countries before building dam: Vietnam

By Thanh Nien News, TN News

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Representatives of countries attending the 2nd MRC Summit in Ho Chi Minh City on April 5. Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Agency
Vietnam and Cambodia have once again asked Laos to consult with countries in the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a consultative body that works with lower basin countries - Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - before moving forward with the potentially risky Don Sahong hydropower project.
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Minh Quang told a press conference wrapping up the 2nd MRC Summit in Ho Chi Minh City Saturday that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen had made the request while meeting with Laos PM Thongsing Thammavong, Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper reported.
Quang said the two countries asked Laos to wait for the result of a Vietnam-initiated study on the impacts of the planned project on the main current of the Mekong River, scheduled to be released next year, before making its move.
“We hoped Laos would also pay attention to the opinions of other countries in the region on the matter as well,” he said.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ha Kim Ngoc told the press conference Vietnam considered the development of Laos as its own development, but both Vietnam and Cambodia agreed that hydropower development on the Mekong River’s main current must comply with MRC regulations so as not to badly affect countries on the lower basin.
In his speech at the plenary session of the 2nd MRC Summit, Dung said the Mekong River has become one of the five largest rivers in the world with the most serious reductions in flows recently.
The annual average flow of the Mekong River at Chieng Sen, the gateway to the Lower Mekong Basin, has been reduced by 10 percent over the past 30 years, he said.
“In Vientiane, Laos, the Mekong River has dried out to the point the people can walk across the river in the dry season.
“Meanwhile, in Thailand, the once calm Chao Phraya River inflicted huge floods of a national disaster level for months in 2011.
“In the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam, salinity intrusion happened for the first time in the areas of Tan Chau and Chau Doc of An Giang Province.”
According to Dung, to address such challenges, national efforts are not enough. Regional cooperation must be strengthened, particularly among the riparian countries, both upper and lower, through multilateral and sub-regional mechanisms such as the MRC, he said.
Last year, Vietnam also called on Laos to honor its pledge to consult with its neighbors before moving forward with the Don Sahong project.
The Vietnam National Mekong Committee sent a letter demanding Laos honor regional cooperation pledged by the countries in the 1995 Mekong Agreement. According to some sources, Cambodian and Thai committees also sent separate letters to Laos.
"We suggest that the proposed project needs to be considered under the prior consultation process," states Vietnam's letter.
Under the agreement, regulated by the MRC, a dam developer must notify or consult with member countries before beginning construction.
In October 2013, Laos notified the MRC of its intent to build the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam, despite calls from foreign donors to consult neighbors that face a risk of depleted fish stocks and damaged livelihoods. Experts have also voiced concerns over the bad impacts of the project on the main current of the river.
Laos planned to start work on the project later this year.
The dam, to be developed by Malaysia's Mega First Corporation Bhd, is the second of 11 dams planned by Laos along its stretch of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong.
Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand have repeatedly voiced concerns about Laos failing to honor a consultation agreement on a bigger project, the US$3.5 billion, 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam for which it held a groundbreaking ceremony in late 2012.
Lao media reported April 3 that the project was 23 percent finished and is expected to be operational in 2019.

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