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NGOs weigh in on Laos dam

The Cambodian National Mekong Commission met with local government officials and NGO representatives yesterday in Kratie province at Cambodia’s first consultative meeting regarding the Xayaburi dam planned for Northern Laos.

Peou Vuthyrak, national environmental program coordinator for CNMC, said the meeting was organised so local-level representatives could address concerns about the dam.

Participants included representatives from several NGOs and government officials from Stung Treng, Kratie, Takeo, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, and Kandal provinces.

Peou Vuthyrak said the concerns voiced by local participants would serve as the basis for a national-level meeting on February 28.

The planning process for the Xayaburi dam is the most advanced of the 11 dams slated for the Lower Mekong River. Yesterday’s meeting was the first time the Mekong River Commission’s regional decision-making process, called Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement, has been employed. The six-month process was initiated last October and is expected to conclude in March 2011.  

Chea Phallika, hydropower and community rights program officer for NGO Forum, an umbrella group of NGOs operating in Cambodia, said the committee provided a summary of the dam’s projected economic benefits, the consultation process and the environmental impact assessment.

She noted the major concerns raised by participants included a lack of transparency regarding information on the Xayaburi dam, the rapid pace of a six-month decision period and the potential impact to agriculture and fisheries.

Sun Mao, executive director of the Cambodian Rural Development Team, said there was agreement between NGOs and local officials on issues related to the ecosystem, food security and water quality. Many participants also raised the recommendation to delay the entire process for 10 years, based on the Mekong River Commission's independent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).

“There was no representation from villagers who live along the river apart from commune council officials,” he said. “We recommended the CNMC invite people from local river communities to the next meeting.”

Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, welcomed the space given by the CNMC to question the process and add comment, but he expressed concerns that the EIA had not been provided in full.

“Without seeing the EIA report, we only have a summary to guide our discussion. They have asked us to wait until the second consultation on February 28 to see the EIA.”

According to PNPCA guidelines, summaries of impact assessment and technical documents are sufficient for the consultation process.

However in a Joint Development Partner Statement dated January 26, the MRC’s donors called for full disclosure of all technical reviews and impact assessments, and suggested the consultation process be extended since relevant information has not been made public.

The first consultation on the Xayaburi dam was held in Vietnam on January 14, where it was concluded that documentation on the project provided inadequate information about the dam’s technical features and potential cross-border and cumulative impact, according to the Vietnam National Mekong Commission website.

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