Concerns mount over Lao dam projects | Asia Pacific

Concerns mount over Lao dam projects

Concerns mount over Lao dam projects

Updated 4 April 2014, 14:07 AEDT

When the leaders of the Mekong River Commission countries meet in Hanoi on Saturday, anti-dam protesters will be urging them to call a halt to the construction of the Xayaburi dam and to put a hold on Laos's plans to build a second dam, the Don Sahong.

Reporter: Kanaha Sabapathy reports.

Speakers: Dr Milton Osborne a non resident fellow at the Lowy Institute; Professor Philip Hirsch, University of Sydney

SABAPATHY: When the leaders of the four Mekong River Commission countries, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand meet in Hanoi along with their counterparts from China and Myanmar ... their aim would be to revive trans boundary cooperation in the areas of water, energy and food security.

Of greatest concern is the impact of Laos's dam projects on water quality, fish stocks and their equitable distribution.

On Monday 39 organisations based in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia issued a joint declaration calling on Laos to halt the construction of the Xayaburi dam and on Thailand to cancel its power purchase agreement.

The chances of this happening may be weak, but Professor Philip Hirsch from the University of Sydney says it sends an important message.

HIRSCH: The Xayaburi is the first of potentially 11 dams, and even if it does go to completion, to actually make the point that it's going ahead without proper environmental or technical studies is a very untransparent process, it's an important point to make.

SABAPATHY: In fact over the weekend hundreds of Cambodians protested against Laos' second planned dam, the Don Sahong.

Protesters claim there has been no discussion of the dam with the other countries and no proper environmental impact assessment done.

But Laos claims since this dam will not cut across the main water channel of the Mekong it just need only inform the other members of its plan.

Dr Milton Osborne a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute however disputes the Laotian position.

OSBORNE: What is so particularly concerning about the Don Sahong dam is that it is being constructed upon that area of the Mekong where you have the only passage over the Khone Falls which permit fish to travel up and down the river in order to engage in their annual spawning activities, which then have an effect over a very large area of the river, including the Great Lake in Cambodia.

SABAPATHY: For Laos the development of the dams would provide a resource, electricity, which it can sell and earn hard cash. But Professor Hirsch says only a very few will enjoy the benefits.


HIRSCH: Lao farmer and fishers depend on the river as much as do farmers and fishers in any other country. So it's not simply a case of Laos benefitting and the other countries losing, there are many in Lao who also stand to lose the fisheries, lose their homes to the area flooded by reservoirs.

SABAPATHY: Dr Osborne fears if Laos goes ahead with the Don Sahong dam it may affect the way other countries review their dam projects.

OSBORNE: The fact that Laos is going ahead and disregarding the outlook and the interests of other people probably plays some part in the Cambodian determination to build the Sesan 2 Dam on the tributary of the Mekong flowing into the river near Stung Treng. And this dam is again one that is regarded as being very likely indeed to cause very considerable costs to the fish stocks within the river.

SABAPATHY: The summit meeting on Saturday will allow the leaders to review their concerns over Laos's development of dams ...but Professor Hirsch does not expect them to put pressure on Vientiane to halt its projects.

HIRSCH: The question becomes which area is the most important to government. In the past unfortunately the Mekong has always taken a back seat to maintaining good relations in other areas.

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