Experts to investigate Mekong dam concerns

Vientiane Times 31 May 2011

An international body will study the impact of dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries, as riverine communities express concern over the increasing number of dams.

The Challenge Programme on Water and Food, an international research body, yesterday teamed up with the Ministry of Energy and Mines' Electricity Department to launch the study on the impact of hydropower plants on the Mekong and its tributaries.

The three year project will provide data, analysis and recommendations for the Lao government, with a view to making decisions that fairly address local people's concerns when considering the construction of dams.

The Lao government is planning at least three dams on the Mekong but is facing strong opposition from countries and communities who believe that dams will cause water shortages, and a decline in river sediment and biodiversity.

The Challenge Programme on Water and Food says it is not against the development of dams on the Mekong and its tributaries as it believes well designed and managed power plants will benefit Mekong communities and provide them with better living conditions.

However, the research group, which also operates in Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Thailand, believes poorly designed and managed power plants could adversely affect some 300 million people in the Mekong basin, for whom the river is a food source.

Riverine communities use water from the Mekong and its tributaries for household consumption, farming and industry, according to the research group. This means it is essential that the sectors concerned find ways to address the problems associated with dams.

A ceremony held in Vientiane to launch the project was attended by senior government officials and policy makers, who said the associated workshop would give them a deeper insight into the impacts of dams.

Electricity Department Deputy Director General, Mr Hatsady Sisoulath, who also attended the workshop, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Challenge Programme on behalf of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which engages the ministry as a research partner.

He said the studies to be conducted will provide support and research-based solutions for the management, operation and construction of hydropower plants.

Mr Hatsady said Laos is a proud nation with tremendous electricity generating potential. The growing demand for electricity in the neighbouring countries of Vietnam, Thailand and China is driving hydropower development in Laos.

The Lao government recognises that it must responsibly manage these resources for the future benefit of Lao citizens and the Mekong region as a whole.

At the workshop, participants learnt about the Challenge Programme on Water and Food and discussed possible areas of study with experts.