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US Senate pushes for Xayaburi funds freeze

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A road leading to the proposed dam site in Xayaburi province, Laos, was constructed earlier this year.

The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday approved a resolution calling on US representatives at multinational banks to suspend financial support to environmentally questionable projects on the Mekong River, including the planned Xayaburi dam in Laos.

The unanimously approved non-binding resolution cites the country’s “significant economic and strategic interests” that may be “jeopardised if the construction of mainstream dams places the region’s stability at risk”.

The resolution goes on to ask that banking representatives “use the voice and vote of the US to support strict adherence to international environmental standards for any financial assistance to hydropower dam projects on the mainstream of the Mekong River”.

The resolution, sponsored by Senator Jim Webb, Chair of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, mentions the controversial Laos project by name.

“The Senate. . . applauds the decision of the Mekong River Commission to delay its endorsement of the Xayaburi dam; [and] supports further delay of the construction of mainstream hydropower dams along the Mekong River until the studies by the Government of Laos have been completed and adequate planning and multilateral coordination can be guaranteed,” it states.

The Xayaburi dam has been the source of much consternation since Laos unveiled plans for it late last year. Laos’ downstream neighbours have expressed concern about the dam’s effects on water levels and fish stocks, with experts saying that Cambodians are particularly susceptible to the dam’s impacts because their diets are so reliant on fish.

In April, the joint committee of the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission met to discuss the dam, but failed to reach an agreement. A decision was pushed to the ministerial-level meeting that will take place next week in Siem Reap between the four states that comprise the commission: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The decision that emerges from that meeting will set an “important precedent”, environmental groups say.

“As the first dam project to enter the MRC’s formal consultation process, the Xayaburi project will test the effectiveness of the MRC,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Yesterday, a petition coordinated by conservation group International Rivers and signed by more than 22,000 concerned parties was delivered to the prime ministers of Laos and Thailand, urging them, before next week’s MRC meeting, to “cancel the Xayaburi dam and defer all decisions on whether to proceed with Mekong Mainstream dams for a period of at least 10 years, until further studies can be conducted”.

While the projected dam will be in Laos, the majority of the electricity generated by the project will go to Thailand.

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