Laos pushes ahead with Xayaburi Dam

By Chris Sleight27 June 2011

The government of Laos has given Thai contractor CH Karnchang permission to resume work on the US$ 3.5 billion Xayaburi hydropower project on the Mekong River, despite protests from neighbouring countries.

The dam is the first to be built on the Lower Mekong basin, and there is an agreement in place between countries that share this river - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - that any such development would be agreed through their joint body, the Mekong River Commission (MRC). In April Laos agreed to suspend work on Xayaburi in the face of concerns from the three other MRC and environmental groups.

One of the key concerns was that the environmental assessment for the project was inadequate, meaning that the potential impacts of the project had not been understood and explored, and that adequate mitigation measures were not in place.

Environmental group International Rivers says the livelihoods of 60 million people in the low Mekong region are at risk if the dam goes ahead without a proper assessment. Concerns centre around the impact on fish stocks, due to disrupted breeding and migratory patterns, and the impact on agricultural land, which relies on the nutrient-rich silt that is washed downstream by the Mekong.

Following the April meeting, Laos had agreed to suspend work on the project until the four country's environment ministers could meet to discuss it in October or November this year. However, Laos has commissioned a study into the Procedure for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process, which found it to be complete, and therefore claims to be within its rights to push ahead with the project, having consulted adequately with the three other members of the MRC. There has been no further study of the environmental impacts of the scheme.

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