Laos says it will postpone dam project

AFP 9 May 2011

Mekong scheme 'a risk to fishing and farming'

HANOI: Laos has told Vietnam it will suspend work on a controversial dam planned for the Mekong River, official media reported, after Hanoi sought a 10-year deferment of the scheme.

Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong informed his counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung "of Laos' decision to temporarily suspend the Xayaburi hydropower project", the Vietnam News Agency reported.

It said the two communist leaders met in the Indonesian capital on the sidelines of the Asean regional summit.

"PM Dung thanked the Lao Party and government for this important decision", which reflected "deep consideration" of Vietnam's position", the agency report said.

At a regional meeting last month Vietnam, which has close political ties with Laos, voiced "deep" concerns about inadequate assessments and the risk of damage to its fishing and farm industries.

It called for hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong to be deferred for at least a decade.

Workers had already begun building roads to the site in northern Laos.

Xayaburi is the first of 11 such projects proposed for the mainstream lower Mekong.

Environmentalists have warned that damming the lower Mekong would trap vital nutrients, increase algae growth and prevent dozens of species of migratory fish swimming upstream to spawning grounds.

The four countries are members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental body that deals with all Mekong-related activities including fisheries, agriculture and flood management.

More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and economic activity, the MRC said.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world and sees hydropower as vital to its future.