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At Mekong meet, all eyes on Laos dams

At Saturday's Mekong summit in Ho Chi Minh City, leaders from Cambodia and Vietnam put Laos in the hot seat with strongly worded statements requesting regional cooperation and responsible use of the shared waterways.

“Even though they weren’t mentioned in the statements by name, everybody knew that implicitly [Laos’s] Don Sahong and Xayaburi [dams] were at the centre of the discussions,” Marc Goichot, a WWF hydropower specialist, said.

In a declaration following the summit, prime ministers from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos agreed to prioritise studies assessing potential effects and consequences of major hydropower projects.

The Vietnamese and Cambodian delegations also requested suspension of major dam developments until after the studies’ completion and subsequent development of management guidelines protecting food security and livelihoods.

“We have to protect our own interests. We will not allow [for construction] if there will be a serious impact,” Lim Kean Hor, minister of water resources and meteorology, said.

Development partners at the summit also called for the Lower Mekong countries to recommit to transboundary collaboration through the Mekong River Commission – the intergovernmental body charged with coordinating sustainable use of the shared river resources.

The development partners on Friday also called on Cambodia to submit its Lower Sesan II dam for regional consultation, a request Ministry of Environment officials declined to comment on yesterday.

By the close of the summit, regional leaders reaffirmed their commitment to cooperation in the face of an increasing number of challenges that threaten the Mekong ecosystem, an approach conservationists say is crucial to protecting the river.

“If the Mekong leaders back their words with actions, [the summit] will hopefully mark the end of irresponsible dam development and the beginning of a more sustainable Mekong River,” Ame Trandem, International Rivers’ Southeast Asia coordinator, said.

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