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Controversial Mekong dam "delayed" by Laos governnment

Controversial Mekong dam "delayed" by Laos governnment

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Two people paddle a boat on the Mekong River in Kampong Cham province in March.

The Laos government will conduct a new study into the impact of a proposed US$3.8 billion hydropower dam, which experts have criticised as being potentially devastating for the Mekong.

Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director of the department of electricity at Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines, said yesterday that the study would review findings of a Mekong River Commission technical review on the 1,260 MegaWat  Xayaburi dam.

The MRC has previously recommended that decisions about whether to build dams on the lower Mekong should be delayed for another decade, citing inadequate information and warning of devastating impacts to fish and the environment as well as the millions who depend on river.

“We are going to hire international experts to review [the report’s] findings,” Daovong Phonekeo said, adding statements made about the project by Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam would also be addressed.
“We’d like to know ... in which areas we have to improve the design of the project.”

He said that CH Karnchang Public Company Limited, a Thai company backing the dam, would be approached to fund the study.

“The [Laos] government is selecting a contracting firm to carry out the review,” he added, confirming that work around the dam project had been “delayed” pending the results of the review.

The move follows reports that Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong told his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung that work on the dam had been halted during a meeting on Saturday at an
Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Jakarta. However, Daovong said that road construction being carried out by CH Karnchang near the site was for public use only and “not for the project”.

At a special Joint Committee Meeting of the MRC on April 19, government representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam deferred a decision on whether to end discussion on the Xayaburi dam project to ministerial level.

Xayaburi has drawn strong criticism from Vietnam in particular, which has said that all mainstream dams should be delayed for 10 years, if not cancelled.

International conservation organisations and NGOs have also heavily criticised the project, particularly the effect it could have on fish migration.

Yesterday, the World Wide Fund for Nature called for the new report to use “current best practice” when reappraising the dam.

“Putting it frankly, the key documentation prepared by consultants for the promoters of this dam has been nowhere near international standards and it reflects very poorly on the consultants involved,” said Dr Jianhua Meng, WWF International Sustainable Hydropower Specialist, in a press release.

The MRC said it was unavailable to comment.

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