Last month in response to concerns expressed by its neighbours Thailand and Cambodia on the impact of the dam on water levels and fish stock, Laos said that it would delay the 3 point 8 Billion dollar project subject to further studies.
But documents obtained by the Phnom Penh Post however indicate that the project is going ahead regardless.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for International Rivers
TRANDEM: A letter that was leaked to us last week revealed how the Lao government has informed the Thai project developer, CH Karnchang, that the regional decision making process over the Xayaburi dam is now complete. This is extremely worrying because Laos appears now to be moving forward on the dam on a unilateral basis despite the concerns that have been raised by neighbouring governments and regional civil society. As a signatory to the 1995 Mekong Agreement, Laos has committed to cooperate with its neighbours on the sustainable management of the Mekong River, and through this agreement they've also said that at all mainstream projects would undergo this regional decision-making process, that goes under with Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
COCHRANE: So does that commitment essentially continue until there is an agreement, or is there some sort of time-based sunset clause on it?
TRANDEM: Yeah well the process began last September, but just two months ago the four governments met together in order to decide whether or not this dam should be built. And at this meeting on April 19th the four governments were unable to reach an agreement on whether or not to build the dam, because Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam all had a lot of concerns regarding the dam's trans-boundary impacts and the need for further study and consultation. And so together the four countries agreed that they would defer the decision to a ministerial level meeting that would happen later in the year, and so this meeting is expected to take place around November this year. So essentially Laos has jumped the gun and has said now that they plan forward on their own.
COCHRANE: Are you surprised by this or have any inclination about what's caused them to jump the gun?
TRANDEM: Yes we're absolutely surprised. Everything that has come out in the region has shown how compelling, serious the concerns are. There's been a lot of evidence produced by the Mekong River Commission and other scientists, which confirms that the dam should not be built because the impacts will be too great, and there's still a lot of scientific uncertainty. So for Laos to go forward it really risks increasing regional instability and also harming the river that is already providing so much to many people. The Prime Ministers of Cambodia and Vietnam have expressed their concern over the dam's trans-boundary impacts to agriculture and fisheries. And the Prime Minister of Vietnam also met with the Prime Minister of Laos in early May, and at that meeting Laos agreed to temporarily suspend the dam. So to move forward on its own right now was a huge surprise to us.
COCHRANE: And so what can the concerned neighbours do? Thailand, Cambodia, our Cambodian listeners will of course be in no doubt about the importance of the Mekong to their fish supplies if nothing else. What can the neighbours do if anything to stop this going ahead?
TRANDEM: Well I think right now they will need to continue to work through the Mekong River Commission, and urge Laos to stop all dam construction. There's been reports for the last few months that the preparatory work at the dam site has already been underway. And so right now the three other governments must work together and urge Laos to respect their neighbours' decision and to wait until the inner ministerial meetings takes place in order to decide whether or not this dam should be built.
COCHRANE: And is there a need for more research to be done about the environmental impact of the dam?
TRANDEM: Yes there was a strategic environmental assessment that looked at the cumulative impacts of building the Xayaburi dam along with a cascade of other dams that are planned on the Mekong River main stream in Laos and Cambodia. And this report stated that there's a lot of scientific uncertainty that still exists, and it recommended that more than 50 studies be done, and that part of this, this is something that's come out by civil society groups and regional governments over and over its route the prior consultation process that took place, and because of these concerns Laos has agreed that they would carry out a study looking into these trans-boundary impacts of the dam. But to date we haven't seen anything about the study.