Laos speeds up hydropower plant on Mekong River despite concerns

Thanh Nien News

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A fisherman in front of the Don Sahong cofferdam in Laos. Photo credit: International Rivers A fisherman in front of the Don Sahong cofferdam in Laos. Photo credit: International Rivers


Construction work on the Don Sahong Dam in Laos is progressing at a rapid pace, amid urgent questions about its impacts on the food security and livelihoods of those near the site as well as up and downstream the Mekong River, according to International Rivers.
Reports from the ground show that the Hou Sahong Channel, which is crucial to seasonal fish migration, is completely blocked, the environmental advocacy group said in a statement.
It said the developers have not released any evidence to show that proposed mitigation measures to enable fish passage through the area will be effective.
June is a critical time for fish migration, but with the Hou Sahong Channel blocked, the future of fishery resources and the livelihoods of fishing communities are in peril.
“Local communities depend on this period for a significant amount of their annual income from fishing,” Pianporn Deetes, International Rivers’ Thailand campaigns director, told Thanh Nien News.
“However with construction of the Don Sahong Dam, communities in Siphandone and across the Mekong Basin are now living in a state of uncertainty and fear over their future.”
Lack of agreement
In early January, the government of Laos held a groundbreaking ceremony to launch the cofferdam project.
This announcement followed months of silence on the status of the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) Prior Consultation procedure. During Prior Consultation, the four lower Mekong governments were unable to reach agreement on how to proceed with the dam.
Six months into the process, the governments of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam all requested an extension to Prior Consultation and called for further studies, including a Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment.
There is no evidence that the requested studies have been carried out and no information as to whether and how the concerns of neighboring countries have been addressed.
The MRC’s Technical Review of the Don Sahong Dam, published in February 2015, also underscores the ambiguity surrounding the proposed mitigation measures, which are critical to the project’s success, according to International Rivers.
'The project should not proceed'
Last week, the United Nation’s Special Procedures echoed concerns over the impacts of the Don Sahong Dam in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.
The report highlights the project’s potential violations of local people’s rights to adequate food and housing, information and participation, and the rights of indigenous people.
The Special Procedures requested responses to these concerns directly from Mega First Corporation Berhad, the governments of Laos and Malaysia and from the Mekong River Commission. They have not received any replies.
Maureen Harris, International Rivers’ Southeast Asia program director, said construction of the Don Sahong Dam should be immediately suspended in order to address the outstanding concerns of Mekong governments and communities, which include the need for a transboundary impact assessment and transparency on the studies conducted so far.
“The project should not proceed until the developer is able to prove that the Don Sahong Dam will not cause significant harm to the Mekong River’s rich fisheries and the millions of people that depend on them.”

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