Laos delays Xayaburi dam on Mekong River

Tuoitrenews 9 December 2011

Laos has agreed to suspend construction of a hydropower dam on the Mekong River to further study concerns among neighboring countries about its impact on the regional ecological system.

The agreement came after the government ministers of environment and irrigation from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam held talks in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap yesterday on the US$3.7 billion project, which faces fierce opposition from environmental and social activists.

The ministers say there is a need for further study on the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River. However, it has not been announced how long the project will be delayed for.

"Now that the four member countries of the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) have agreed to conduct a further study, construction can not start until we have a clear picture of the dam’s impact," Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, was quoted as saying by the International River Organization.

The four member states (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietna) also agreed in principle to ask Japan’s government and other international development partners to help assess the impact of planned hydropower dams on the Mekong.

“Further study will provide a more complete picture for the four countries, for whom the Mekong is a vital source of water, to be able to further discuss the development and management of their shared resources," Cambodia's water resources minister Lim Kean Hor said.

A representative of the Vietnam River Network said, “The four Mekong governments have come to a sound decision, but this is just a starting point. They must take further steps to realize their commitments. We hope that the Laotian government will uphold the trust we placed in them and immediately halt construction at the project site and remove all equipment from the site.”

Vietnam earlier recommended a 10-year delay for all Mekong hydropower projects.

According to its design, the Xayaburi dam will be 820 meters long and 32.6 meters high. Upon completion, 49 square kilometers of land would be submerged, and the dam’s water discharge capacity is a planned 47,500 cubic meters per second.

The dam project’s investor is Thailand’s SEAN & Ch. Karnchang Public Co., Ltd. It is expected that some of the power from the project will be used to meet Laos’ demand, while the remaining power will be bought by Thailand.