Mekong body urged to oppose Lao dam project

Bangkok Post 19 November 2013

By Apinya Wipatayotin

Civil society groups have urged the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to protest against the Lao government's Don Sahong dam project in the Mekong River.

Premrudee Daoroung, director of the regional NGO Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), said the Thai government should play a key part in that campaign by expressing its firm position against the dam.

Ms Premrudee said the Lao government has breached the MRC agreement, as members must be consulted before any dam is built in the river's mainstream.

Instead the Lao government used a channel of prior notification, which is a process not requiring all MRC members' opinions on the project, she said in Bangkok yesterday.

She said Vientiane earlier told the MRC that the prior consultation process involving other MRC members was not necessary.

It said that the Don Sahong dam project is located on the Mekong's tributaries, not the mainstream as required by MRC.

"The MRC has kept silent over the issue, which made us question its duty to protect and preserve the international river.

"We have submitted a letter to the MRC, demanding it help clarify Laos' claim," she said.

She also said Cambodia is concerned over the issue as it stands to be affected by the project, especially by falling numbers of fish in Tonle Sap lake, the largest source of freshwater fish in the country.

The construction of Don Sahong dam is expected to begin at the end of this month.

If it is completed, it will have a capacity of 260 megawatts, or the size of two of Thailand's Pak Moon dams.

Its location is by far the most important for fish migration in the Siphandone area of the Mekong River.

Environmentalists fear that if the dam is completed, water flow will decrease by double the regular amount during the drought season at Khon Phapheng Falls.

Moreover, it will affect Irrawaddy dolphins and the Lao government has yet to study the dam's impact on the animals.

Ormbun Thipsuna, the Regional Coordinator of the Network of Community Organisation Councils of Seven Northeastern Provinces in the Mekong Basin, said the dam will affect everyone living near the river no matter whether they are fisherman, farmers or even tourism operators.

Meanwhile, 103 civil society groups yesterday submitted their protest letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment asking it to help stop the project.

Minister Vichet Kasemthongsri said he would consider the request.