A day before the Mekong River Commission is scheduled to deliver its long-awaited decision on the future of Laos’ controversial Xayaburi dam project, government officials, NGOs and scholars meeting in Phnom Penh called for transparency and collaboration in the decision-making process.
“We must ensure that decisions about water, food and energy are not taken in isolation from each other and that trans-boundary implications are carefully considered,” Australian ambassador to Cambodia Penny Richards said as she opened the first Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy.
The gathering brought together a diverse group of more than 120 for a three-day forum to discuss sustainable development along the river, but while the event was held in the capital, much of the focus was some 250 kilometres away.
“Today in Siem Reap, the council members of the MRC are assembling, and the world is watching to see what they have to say about Lower Mekong mainstream dams,” she said, adding that dams were “altering” water flows.
“Natural river flows are being altered by new infrastructure, such as the Upper Mekong hydropower dams in China, and other new dams on major rivers and tributaries,” she said.
Nao Thouk, director general of the Fisheries Administration, echoed the Australian Ambassador’s worries about dam development, saying that “the ways in which dams might affect water productivity, fish habitats, fish migrations and fish production” are “concerning”.
Today the MRC, comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, is expected to issue its decision on the proposed 1,260-megawatt dam in Laos’ Xayaburi province. Many environmental groups have said the plan could have devastating effects on the region.