Laos: Xayaburi dam stopped for now
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Laos: Xayaburi dam stopped for now

Could lightning strike again after the Myitsone cancellation?

Environmentalists appear to have been handed a second rare victory in Southeast Asia with Thursday’s decision by the Mekong River Commission Council to delay for an uncertain period the construction of the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River 100 km. inside Laos.

The council, comprising water and environment ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, agreed at a meeting in Siem Riep, Cambodia, to seek international support to produce a more complete study of the dam, which is intended to produce power for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. It doesn’t mean the dam won’t go forward, and there are powerful interests including the Laotian government, EGAT, and Thai construction companies supporting the construction of the facility, which would deliver 1,280 megawatts of power to Thailand.

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

“The outcome demonstrates the member countries’ continued commitment to work together in the regional spirit of the Mekong Agreement to bring about economic development without compromising sustainability of livelihoods of their peoples and the ecology,” said Kean Hor, the chairman of the council and Cambodia’s minister of water resources and meteorology. “Further study will provide a more complete picture for the four countries to be able to further discuss the development and management of their shared resources.”

Environmentalists won their first major victory, and arguably one of the biggest ever in Southeast Asia, in November, when the Burmese government halted the construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River, citing the opposition of common Burmese citizens in permanently halting construction. Like the Xayaburi Dam, the Myitsone Dam was slated to export almost all of its energy to another country, in that case China.

The dam, being built by a Chinese state-owned construction company, awakened latent Burmese outrage against the Chinese, who were regarded as colonizing the country. It was the first major signal by the Burmese government, headed by Thien Sein, that change was afoot in the long-repressed country.

Other big dams, including the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, the Bakun Dam in Sarawak have been condemned because of the environmental damage they have caused.

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