Laos under fire over Xayaburi Dam project
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Laos under fire over Xayaburi Dam project

Environmentalists charge Lao government with using a biased study to seek approval, reports Asia Sentinel

On Dec. 7-9 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the Mekong River Commission is set to debate whether to approve the controversial US$3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam, the first major project of 11 planned for the lower Mekong River.

The dam, being pushed by the Thai and Laotian governments, is opposed by a wide array of environmental organizations that charge it would threaten fisheries and food security for the 60 million people who live in the Mekong River Basin.


A fisherman works near the site of the proposed Xayaburi Dam in Paksey, northern Laos. Pic: AP.

International Rivers, a California-based environmental NGO, is complaining that the Laotian government is using what it calls a biased report by a Swiss company, Poyry Energy AG, in an effort to gain approval from regional ministers to build the proposed dam.

The Mekong River Commission is composed of officials from the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. As the first Mekong mainstream dam to undergo the commission’s prior consultation process, the Xayaburi Dam is likely to set a precedent for how future decisions are made on the 11 proposed mainstream dams, the NGO noted.

According to the rules of the regional consultation process, the Laotian government must respond to requests for information and must wait for the governments to reach a consensus on whether the project goes forward. Environmentalists, however, charge that the Laotians have already started building access roads and construction camps at the dam site.

The dam has been under fire from environmental organizations since it was first proposed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand in November of 2008 with approval from the Laotian government. It is expected to generate as much as 1,220 megawatts of electricity, to be transmitted via a 200-km transmission line to northeastern Thailand.