Xayaburi concerns ‘unanswered’

Phnom Penh Post 14 September 2012

By Shane Worrell

Cambodia has been frank in expressing its concerns over the controversial Xayaburi hydroelectric dam project, despite suggestions from the Laos energy minister that its neighbours had no objections to it, Cambodian National Mekong Committee Secretary-General Te Navuth said yesterday.

“We have made comments about the potential trans-boundary impacts,” Navuth said of the US$3.8 billion dam proposed for the Mekong river in northern Laos. “[Laos] really did not respond to those concerns. They remain unanswered.”

Laos’ Energy Minister Soulivong Daravong said on Wednesday that no other countries had objected to the 1,285 megawatt hydroelectric dam and that his country would build it.

“We are trying to progress, because this is an opportunity for us and we will do it sustainably,” Daravong said outside an ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh. “If the project is sustainable, they have no reason to object.”

Navuth said Cambodia had asked Laos to halt its hydro projects on the river until the Mekong River Commission examined their impacts.

“However, Laos still proceeds with what it calls preliminary work,” he said, adding he believed there was no difference between this and actual construction.

Navuth also questioned Daravong’s claims that Cambodia had already agreed to buy a percentage of Xayaburi’s electricity from Laos.

“What Laos said is just a Lao statement,” he said.

According to a report released this week by environmental group International Rivers, neither Laos nor Thailand – which would get most of the power generated by Xayaburi – had addressed Cambodia’s and Vietnam’s concerns.

Threats to food security are already becoming evident in the early stages of construction at Xayaburi, the report adds.

“Food insecurity is growing near the Xayaburi Dam site, as communities lose access to the Mekong River resources on which they depend,” The Xayaburi Dam: Threatening Food Security in the Mekong, adds.

According to the report, a village of more than 300 people has already been resettled – in a way that violates Lao law – and villagers have lost agricultural land and opportunities to fish.

“Villagers have been placed into a cash-based economy without enough cash or resources to sustain a living,” the report, written by Southeast Asia policy co-ordinator Kirk Herbertson, states.”

“None of the people who we interviewed [in June this year] felt they were better off at the resettlement site.”

Industry, Mine and Energy Minister Suy Sem declined to comment yesterday.