The Mekong River Commission held its second stakeholder meeting on Laos’s controversial proposed Pak Beng dam on Friday, giving involved parties the opportunity to hear responses to concerns raised at the first meeting in February.
Following this weekend’s meeting, MRC CEO Pham Tuan Phan issued a statement that struck a defensive tone, appearing to acknowledge past criticisms, while insisting that the organisation could not address them on its own.
“The MRC is not a regulatory body for the management of water resources,” Tuan Phan said, adding that the organisation must respect the sovereignty of member nations.
Experts have previously warned the dam could have devastating effects on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap water system, which supports the nation’s fisheries – a crucial source of both livelihoods and food.
Outside groups have also criticised the MRC for not properly assessing the environmental impact of proposed dams, and not doing enough to slow what they say is their unsustainable rate of development.
Phan’s statement acknowledges the dangers the Pak Beng dam poses to “fish passage, downstream sediment transport, and aquatic habitats”, but maintains the dam’s design will improve as the Lao government develops it.
Phan also conceded that the prior consultation process is “not ideally the place to decide whether a project is good or bad”, but pointed to a “parallel” process that does assess the cumulative impact of multiple dams.