Lower Mekong countries take prior consultation on Sayaboury project

KPL 20 April 2011

Lao PDR insists process is complete, while other lower Mekong countries raise concerns on impacts and gaps in technical knowledge and mitigation measures

Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam on Tuesday agreed that a decision on the prior consultation process for the proposed Sayaboury hydropower project be tabled for consideration at the ministerial level, as they could not come to a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project.

The four members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) reached the conclusion at the MRC Joint Committee (JC) Special Session in Vientiane as they come together to discuss the proposed hydropower project, the first on the mainstream of the lower Mekong Basin, according to a meeting, held in Vientiane Capital on 19 April.

The JC Members agreed that there is still a difference in views from each country on whether the prior consultation process should come to an end.

At the meeting, the Lao PDR insisted there was no need to extend the process since this option would not be practical, while transboundary environmental impacts on other riparian countries are unlikely.

The other MRC countries, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, however raised their concerns on gaps in technical knowledge and studies about the project, predicted impact on the environment and livelihoods of people in the Mekong Basin and the need for more pubic consultations.

“We appreciate all comments, but we will consider to accommodate all concerns,” said Head of the Lao delegation, Viraphonh Viravong, head of the Lao delegation.

The Lao PDR proposed to end the Prior Consultation process, noting that an extension to conduct further studies will require much more time than 6 months and it will not be possible to satisfy all parties’ concerns.

The Sayaboury project will comply with the MRC Secretariat Preliminary Design Guidance and best practices based on international standards, said the Lao delegate, adding major impacts on navigation, fish passage, sediment, water quality and aquatic ecology and dam safety can be mitigated at acceptable levels.

Other MRC Member Countries however expressed a range of concerns on the proposed scheme and provided some further recommendations.

Cambodia said that more time may be required for the notifying country and its project developer to fulfill gaps in technical requirements and for effective consultations among the Member Countries and with public.

Cambodia stated that there was a need for a comprehensive study and assessment of transboundary and cumulative environmental impacts.

Cambodia added that the enabling countermeasures and solutions to mitigate such impacts need to be clearly developed, while other measures such as benefit sharing to affected countries, transboundary environmental management and social funds need to be jointly put in

Acknowledging the important role of the project in Lao PDR’s development plan, Thailand responded that in moving the project forward, precautionary and mitigation measures should be conducted for the sake of the people and environment in the region.

Citing concerns being raised in its national consultations on environmental degradation such as losses of fisheries and wetlands and the lack of clearly-identified mitigations measures, Thailand said it was concerned about the way of life of the people depending on the river.

Meanwhile, Vietnam expressed its deep and serious concerns for the lack of adequate, appropriate and comprehensive assessments of transboundary and cumulative impacts that the project may cause to the downstream, especially in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam recommended the deferment of this and other planned hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream for at least 10 years.

“The deferment should be positively seen as a way to provide much-needed time for riparian Governments to carry out comprehensive and more specific quantitative studies on all possible cumulative impacts,” said emphasizes Dr. Le Duc Trung, Head of the Vietnamese delegation.

Vietnam added that the limited timeframe of the consultation process was inadequate to facilitate the achievement of the process. “The deferment would enable the country to secure better understanding and the confidence of the public and local communities,” said Mr. Duc Trung.

The JC Members will report the outcome of the meeting today to respective ministers in their countries.

The Sayaboury dam is located approximately 150km downstream of Luang Prang in northern Lao PDR. The dam has an installed capacity of 1,260 MW with a dam 810 m long and 32 m high and has a reservoir area of 49km2 and live storage of 225Mm3.

The primary objective of the Sayaboury dam project is to generate foreign exchange earnings for financing socio-economic development in the Lao PDR.

The developer is Ch. Karnchang Public Co. Ltd. Of Thailand who negotiated a tariff agreement with EGAT in 2010.