International Conference on “Mekong Mainstream Dams: People’s Voices across Borders”

Mekong Public Forum
The International Conference on

“Mekong Mainstream Dams: People’s Voices across Borders”

12-13 November 2008
Chumpot-Pantip Conference Room
4th Floor, Prachadhipok-Rumpaipannee Building
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand

Proceeding of the Conference

Background and Rationale

The renewed push to dam the Mekong mainstream and the threats this poses for the river’s ecosystems, aquatic resources and livelihoods of millions of people in the Mekong basin has been of increasing concern to groups monitoring developments in the region. While plans to dam the Lower Mekong mainstream date back to the 1960s – which were drawn up by the then Mekong Committee – it is only in the last two years that agreements have been signed between governments and hydropower developers to conduct detailed studies on individual projects.

Of the eleven large hydropower dams currently planned for the Lower Mekong mainstream, seven are located in Laos, two are on the Thai-Lao border, and two are in Cambodia [see map]. Consistent with the growth of intra-regional investments in the hydropower sector, studies for all twelve mainstream projects are being conducted by hydropower developers from Asia, namely China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

With an increasing presence of private commercial banks and companies in the hydropower sector, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have played a less prominent role in direct financing of large hydro schemes, though they continue to promote hydropower development as a means of meeting the region’s growing demands for electricity. The changing context and proliferation of new actors pose challenges for civil society organisations wanting to influence decisions over hydropower development in the region.  A better understanding of the changing dynamics and new dam builders and financiers, as well as the private sector’s relationship to governments and other institutions is needed to address the threats posed by the mainstream dams.

Despite the widespread ecological and socio-economic implications of damming the Mekong mainstream, existing projects have proceeded with little transparency, and no consultation or participation of affected communities and civil society organisations. Existing mechanisms, such as the Mekong River Commission, has been criticised for its ineffectiveness in promoting more participatory decision making and addressing the threats posed by mainstream dams.

The transboundary impacts that will occur as a result of the mainstream dams, calls for a combined effort by concerned civil society and academicgroups in the Mekong region and internationally, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC), Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute (CUSRI) to organise the Mekong Public Forum, the International Conference on “Mekong Mainstream Dams: People’s Voices across Borders”.  By highlighting the context and actors driving the current hydropower rush in the region and drawing on experiences with existing projects, the conference will provide a forum to discuss ideas and proposals for stronger collaborative actions for addressing the challenges presented by the proposed mainstream dams.


  1. To provide an opportunity for civil society, and national and regional policy and decision makers to exchange views and experiences concerning the problems of and solutions to the hydropower dams in Mekong region including the Mekong mainstream dams.
  2. To assess both the successes and failures of existing large hydropower projects in the region; and to examine existing regional cooperation frameworks relevant to the proposed mainstream dams.
  3. To promote the search for more effective approaches, at local, national and regional levels to ensure a greater role for civil society in develop alternatives to Mekong mainstream dams in meeting the region’s energy needs and sustainable development.

The conference was attended by approximately 300 civil society representatives, government officials from the Mekong countries, donor agencies, intergovernmental agencies, students and journalists.  Please view Key points from the Conference.

Presentations from the Conference   

Ecological and livelihood implications of the hydropower dams: Vietnam perspective
By Lai Tung Quan, Institute of Tropical Biology, Ho Chi Minh City and Ly Quoc Dang, EarthRights Mekong School
From Sesan to Don Sahong and Sambor: A case experience of cross border dams in Cambodia
By Chhith Sam Ath, NGO Forum on Cambodia

Reflecting lessons from the 2-year campaigns on Mekong mainstream dams: the common issues
By Premrudee Daoroung, TERRA / FER 

Mekong rising energy demand: Cooperation or conflict
By Witoon Permpongsacharoen, Mee Net / FER

Energy trading in Mekong region
By Grainne Ryder, Probe International   

Role of large dams in meeting energy demand
By Carl Middleton, International Rivers
MRC's role in relation to the planning and implementation of mainstream dams and its strategic assessment framework
By Jeremy Bird, Mekong River Commission Secretariat
Current status of knowledge on the fisheries impacts of mainstream dams and mitigation options
By Chris Barlow, Fisheries Program, MRC
Civil society experience with MRC on tributary and mainstream dams
By Montree Chantawong, Thai People's Network for Mekong
MRC’s state of knowledge and state of governance with respect to mainstream dams
By Philip Hirsh, Australian Mekong Resource Centre (AMRC), Sydney University

Selected documents

What do MRC studies tell us about the implications of Mekong mainstream dams for fisheries?
Australian Mekong Resource Centre, Mekong Brief No. 9, November 2008 

The governance role of the MRC vis-a-vis Mekong mainstream dams?
Australian Mekong Resource Centre, Mekong Brief No. 10, November 2008


Opposition to Mekong dams overflows at meet
IPS 16 November 2008

The MRC is still playing it safe
IPS 16 November 2008

Voices from Mekong: Dams upriver hurting people living downstream
Bangkok Post  14 November 2008

Chinese dams accused of flooding the region
Irrawaddy  14 November 2008

Magsaysay winner to attend Mekong meet
Bangkok Post  12 November 2008