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One more dam delay

No one wants to use the word “delay”, but the controversial Xayaburi dam project in Laos will be on hold for at least as long as it takes to complete further study on its potential effects.

After several hours of closed-door deliberations yesterday, ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam again failed to reach a verdict on the proposed 1,260-megawatt dam, instead calling for further research into the impacts of mainstream development along the Mekong River.

“Council members agreed to  .  .  .  support conducting further studies on development projects along the Mekong,” Te Navuth, joint committee member of Cambodia’s delegation to the Mekong River Commission, told reporters after yesterday’s meeting.

“This means construction will not start until there is a clear result.”

Yesterday marks the second instance a regional decision on the US$3.8 billion project has been delayed. In April, a joint committee meeting of the MRC also failed to reach a definitive conclusion.

At that meeting, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam called for further studies into the impact of the dam, with Vietnam requesting a 10-year delay on all mainstream dams.

The proposed hydropower dam has elicited concerns from Laos’s neighbouring countries and environmentalists about its potentially damaging effects on water levels and fish stocks.

In a statement released yesterday, conservation group International Rivers called for a commitment from Laos to halt Xayaburi dam construction.

“The four governments made a responsible decision by deciding to carry out further study, however, we expect confirmation on whether this means construction will be stopped, what the timeline for the study will be and what the consultation process will be,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, told the Post yesterday.

Despite the apparent consensus, officials from the four countries were tight-lipped about the meeting and there appeared to be some confusion about whether Laos would proceed with construction.

Saleumxay Kommasith, director general of the Lao Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Department of Internal Organisation, refused to refer to the decision as a delay, stating  there was “just further research needed”.

Meanwhile, Duangjai Srithawatchai, of the bureau of Mekong management at the Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s Department of Water Resources, said the consultation process was “finished” and the MRC “cannot say whether or not construction can be allowed or not allowed”.

MRC communications officer Surasak Glahan acknowledged that “legally, the [MRC’s] consultation process is not binding”, but said the countries “have shown their commitment to the process by coming here and discussing the issue”.

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