Phnom Penh Post 20 February 2014
By Laignee Barron
Participants at a regional public forum in Bangkok yesterday called for Lower Mekong governments to halt all hydropower projects along the Mekong mainstream.
The forum was intended to encourage dialogue on hydropower after the Mekong River Commission – the body responsible for facilitating regional cooperation – last month failed to reach a consensus over Laos’s Don Sahong hydropower dam.
“The [MRC] has failed to effectively ensure regional decision-making over whether or not these projects go forward,” reads a statement by forum organiser Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA).
In 2010, the MRC recommended a 10-year moratorium on mainstream hydropower projects. But since then, Laos has started work on the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam, and in September last year announced plans to move forward with the 260-megawatt Don Sahong.
“I think the key consensus from the forum is that the relevant sectors need to have more discussion.… The Mekong does not belong to Laos, it is an international river, so Laos has to listen to the other countries and not act unilaterally,” said Premrudee Daoroung, TERRA’s Thailand coordinator.
According to the Don Sahong’s environmental manager Peter Hawkins, the criticism of Laos is unfounded.
“The government of Laos committed in good faith to transparent consultations about the project with all other MRC countries and any other interested parties,” he said.
“The Concession Agreement is still being negotiated, so the critics still hope to influence the outcome.… Secondly, the project location at a site on the mainstream has brought into focus an ongoing uncertainty over the role of the MRC in hydropower development in the basin.”
MRC secretariat communications officer Surasak Glahan said the commission has agreed that the Don Sahong project must be taken to the MRC’s highest body, and Laos has proposed a joint monitoring committee to oversee development. However, neither a council level meeting nor a monitoring committee has as yet been planned.