Activists call to scrap Lao dam project

Bangkok Post 12 May 2011

By Apinya Wipatayotin

Ecosystem 'under threat' if hydro plan goes ahead

Activists are unhappy with Laos' pledge to study the environmental effects of the controversial Xayaburi hydro dam.

They say Laos' commitment to study further the environmental impact assessment report on the dam, in the face of stiff regional opposition to the project, is no guarantee that environmental impacts on the trans-boundary Mekong River can be minimised.

Laos should scrap the project instead, they said.

Laos has offered to further study the EIA after the three Mekong countries which stand to be affected by the Xayaburi dam's construction - Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - raised objections to the conclusions.

Laos has also decided to postpone work on the dam, pending the outcome of the study.

Hanarong Yaowaloes, chairman of Thai-Water Partnerships, an environmental group, said the EIA study done by Ch Karnchang Public Company Limited, a construction giant which is undertaking the joint venture project, was unable to answer environmentalists' concerns.

The study failed to say how the dam would affect the livelihoods of millions of people living along the river, Mr Hanarong said.

"The project should be scrapped. Laos wants to study the EIA further just to draw out the process," he said.

Meanwhile, Birgit Vogel, chief technical adviser of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), said many concerns have been raised about the EIA report on the Xayaburi dam, especially the impact on fish migration and sediment transport.

The MRC suggested more work was needed to mitigate the environmental impacts on fish, and management of sediment flow, Ms Vogel said.

Ms Vogel was speaking at a public lecture yesterday on Mekong River dams at Chulalongkorn University.

She said the MRC's fisheries experts found that the dam could affect 23 to 100 threatened fish species, as some 39% of migrant fish would be blocked by the dam.

That could lead to a 6% drop in the 2.5 tonnes of fish caught from the river each year.

The MRC's sediment expert group expected the reservoir would lose about 60% of its capacity due to poor sediment management within 30 years.

She believed the issue will be raised again at the Mekong region's ministerial meeting in October or November this year.

Richard Cronin, senior associate of the Henry L Stimson Center in Washington DC, closely monitors the Mekong region.

He said Laos has the right to build the Xayaburi dam but it should not disregard the concerns of neighbouring countries.

Mr Cronin said the project's suspension would give Laos the chance to carefully scrutinise the impact on the environment and livelihood of people along the river.

"Laos has nothing to export except natural resources," Mr Cronin said.

"It can earn big money from the sale of electricity from the hydro dam to Thailand, Vietnam and China."

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