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Ground broken amid outcry over Xayaburi dam

A groundbreaking ceremony for the contentious Xayaburi hydropower dam in Laos’ north went ahead as expected yesterday, amid more concerns from environmental groups about its potential effects on the Mekong River.

A banner at the site – where extensive work near the river has already been carried out – described activity as a “groundbreaking ceremony”, confirming Lao Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong’s announcement on Monday that his country would begin building the 1,285-megawatt dam.

This was despite Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong telling The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that breaking of ground was not happening at the site.

The World Wildlife Fund said yesterday that the Xayaburi dam – which has been opposed by Cambodia and Vietnam – would threaten the biodiversity, fisheries and livelihoods of millions along the river.

“Laos appears to be recklessly intent on forging ahead with construction before the agreed impact studies have been completed,” Li Lifeng, WWF’s freshwater program director, said in a statement.

“If the region’s governments fail not to reaffirm their concerns on Xayaburi, they risk resting the future of the Mekong on flawed analysis and gaps in critical data that could have dire consequences for millions of people living in the Mekong River basin.”

WWF called for ministers from Mekong River Commission member countries – Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – to defer a decision on the dam for 10 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Reuters

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