VOA 19 April 2012
A Thai company may have already begun construction on a controversial hydroelectric dam on the Lower Mekong River, despite regional calls for further research into its impact on the environment.
On its website Tuesday, the CH. Karnchang development group says it has notified the Thai Stock Exchange that construction on the $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam in Laos was scheduled to begin on March 15.
The regional Mekong River Commission, which includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, agreed in December that further study was needed to assess the dam's environmental impact before construction should proceed.
But CH. Karnchang's statement seemed to confirm that it will push ahead with the project and ignore the ruling, which was not legally binding.
Environmental groups say the dam could have an uncertain environmental impact on the 60 million people who live along the Mekong River basin and depend on its fisheries for their livelihoods.
Pianporn Deetes, the Thailand campaign coordinator at the U.S.-based advocacy group International Rivers, tells VOA that initial stages of construction at the site have already forced some of the local population to re-locate.
“According to our field research, there has been some relocation in some of the villages. At least one village right at the dam site has already moved to the relocation site. And either construction or preparation work has already begun, I think for more than a year.”
The project is expected to take about eight years to complete.
Laos, one of the poorest nations in the world, expects a huge economic benefit from selling most of the dam's 1,260 kilowatts of hydroelectric power to Thailand.
But Deetes fears those profits will come at the expense of the millions of people who live along the 4,800-kilometer river.
“We want to raise the issue and inform the shareholders that the companies are making profits, when the burden – the social and environmental cost – will be borne by the communities along the Mekong River.”
The Xayaburi dam would be the first hydropower dam on the lower reaches of the Mekong River, although China has built dams on the upper stretches.