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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cancel the Don Sahong Dam

Cambodian activists
Cambodian activists hold placards and banners on a boat during the handover of petition signatures against the Don Sahong dam, in Phnom Penh, on September 11. AFP

Cancel the Don Sahong Dam

Today, the Mekong River Commission is holding its first regional public consultation on the Don Sahong Dam in Pakse, Laos. We believe the Don Sahong Dam poses an unacceptable risk to regional fisheries, food security and the future of the Mekong, and as such, should be immediately cancelled.

The Don Sahong Dam imperils a critical and ecologically unique area of the Mekong River. The Hou Sahong Channel, on which the Don Sahong Dam would be built, is one of the main pathways in the Mekong, used year-round by fish migrating between Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Blocking the Hou Sahong Channel will have an irreversible impact on fish migration and, consequently, on food and livelihood security throughout the Mekong.

The environmental impact assessment for the Don Sahong Dam failed to properly address the threat to regional fisheries. Despite the project being located less than 2 kilometres from Cambodia, the transboundary impacts of the project were not adequately considered or assessed.

Construction and operation of the Don Sahong Dam will require significant change in the hydrology of the area, increasing the Mekong River’s dry season flows through the Hou Sahong Channel from 4 per cent to 50 per cent. Such changes would affect the renowned Khone Phapheng Falls and threaten the globally protected wetlands at the Stung Treng Ramsar site in Cambodia.

The proposed mitigation measures, upon which the project’s success hinges, have never been tested in the Mekong region, and regional experts have expressed fears that these measures will not be sufficient to mitigate the loss of the Hou Sahong Channel for fish migration. The decisions that have been made about the design and operation of the Don Sahong Dam are based on assumptions which gamble with the future of the Mekong River and her people.

There is too much at stake to take such a gamble.

In a letter sent to Mekong prime ministers on September 10, 2014, the Save the Mekong Coalition raised concerns about the legitimacy of the prior consultation process for the Don Sahong Dam. We stressed that no projects, including the Don Sahong Dam, should be submitted for review until critical flaws in the prior consultation process are first addressed and until adequate studies, including the MRC council study and Mekong Delta study, have been completed and made public. In the same letter, we put forward recommendations for minimum criteria, based on international standards, to enable a participatory and transparent consultation process, foremost that consultations must take place before a decision to proceed with the project. It is clear that these basic requirements have not been met within the national consultations currently underway in Cambodia and Thailand, nor will they be met at the regional consultation.

The Don Sahong Dam’s prior consultation process must not be used as a way for Laos to legitimise its actions under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, but instead should demonstrate a commitment to regional decision-making in good faith, and in the spirit of the Mekong Agreement. It is critical that decisions related to developments on the Mekong River are based on agreement between all four MRC member countries, and most importantly, by the millions of people who depend upon the river, its biodiversity and its resources.

The Mekong River is of global importance, supporting lives and livelihoods in four countries. Central to the Mekong and her people is the role of the region’s rich fisheries. The likely impacts from the Don Sahong Dam on fish migration and the productivity of these fisheries pose an unacceptable risk to food security, lives, livelihoods and the health of millions of people. Furthermore, the failures of regional cooperation and unequal costs that will be borne throughout the basin threaten the economic and political stability of the region. A precautionary approach is essential to sustain present and future generations who depend on the Mekong. Efforts must be made by regional leaders to move towards improved energy planning and more sustainable energy options to ensure the future of the Mekong.

The risks posed by the Don Sahong Dam are avoidable. We call on the Lao government to immediately cancel the Don Sahong Dam, and for the Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese governments to take necessary actions to uphold their own responsibilities towards the protection of the Mekong River and its people. Together, the Mekong leaders must take immediate steps to improve regional cooperation and ensure the long-term protection of the vital resources within the Mekong River.

Save the Mekong Coalition is an alliance of NGOs, local people, academics, journalists, artists and ordinary people from within the Mekong countries, and internationally, working to keep the Mekong free flowing for present and future generations. For more information visit: www.savethemekong.org.

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