Dam builder draws flak for flawed impact report

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The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for a proposed massive hydropower dam on the Mekong River in Laos has been decried as slipshod and incomplete by a non-governmental organization.

"It's little wonder that the environment impact assessment  report hasn't been made public until now, given its abysmal quality," said Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with US-based environment NGO International Rivers.

The highly anticipated report was released last week, just days before a meeting of the four Lower Mekong countries: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. All four countries agreed in 1995 that no mainstream dam construction could proceed without the consensus of all four stakeholders.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC), which serves as an independent advisory board on river construction, is expected to hold a meeting in Cambodia's Sihanoukville on March 24-26 to share preliminary views of the dam proposal.

Trandem has charged that the report (which will serve as the basis for much of the discussion) "lacks sufficient technical information, is riddled with analytical holes and only considers the impacts 10 kilometers downstream of the project instead of basin-wide."

A final decision on whether to build the dam is expected to be made by April 22.

Up until now, critics of the dam have focused on a dearth of research and information regarding the potential effects the dam may have on the environment, downstream agriculture and the region's fisheries.

Two weeks ago, Thanh Nien Weekly published a story in which independent energy experts pointed out that the electricity generated from the dam will only add to Thailand's 28 percent surplus of electricity.

Both the MRC and Trandem seem to agree that the dam builder's EIA report contains a fatal flaw.

"The MRC admits that the [dam developer's report] is making assumptions that the dam company can mitigate impacts," she told Thanh Nien Weekly. "But, the MRC's [assessment] made it very clear that most of the impacts of the mainstream dams can not be mitigated."

According to Trandem, the Xayaburi EIA report includes several flaws relating to fisheries losses, ecosystem and biodiversity damage, trans-boundary impacts, agriculture losses and impacts on livelihoods.

"Member countries should demand that the EIA report be redone to consider trans-boundary impacts," she said. "It's usually one of the key documents in deciding if a project should be built or not."

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