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US senators raise Mekong dams

US senators raise Mekong dams

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Xayaburi Dam construction on April 14 this year.

THREE United States senators have introduced a resolution calling for the United States to wield its influence to delay dams proposed for the Mekong River’s mainstream and ensure “strict adherence” to environmental standards for such projects.

The measure brings further scrutiny to the controversial US$3.8 billion Xayaburi dam proposed by Laos, which many fear would severely affect fisheries and food security in the region.

The resolution, introduced on Friday, calls on US representatives in multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to use the “voice and vote” of the US to tie financing for hydropower dam projects on the Mekong mainstream to environmental standards.

Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia who sponsored the resolution, said on Friday that a series of mainstream dams planned for the Mekong could put the region’s stability “at risk”. He welcomed the decision in April by the Mekong River Commission – a regional body that includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – to delay an endorsement of Laos’ proposed Xayaburi dam.

“I hope that all countries will abide by their commitments to complete a robust assessment of this dam before moving forward on any construction,” Senator Webb said in a statement. Two leading Republican senators, Richard Lugar and James Inhofe, co-sponsored the measure.

If passed, the resolution would express the sentiments of the US Senate on the issue, but would not carry the force of law. The resolution does not require a concurrent resolution in Congress or the signature of the president to be passed. The action follows recent revelations that Lao government officials told the company building the dam that they consider a regional decision-making process on the issue to be “completed”, to the chagrin of representatives in Cambodia and Vietnam who have called for further study of the project’s potentially devastating environmental impact.

An MRC spokesman has said that regional discussion on the dam is not finished, while donors and development partners to the MRC said they “would welcome clarification” from Laos on the issue in a statement on June 24.

The MRC development partners – which include the US, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank – said the four MRC countries should consult publicly with civil society on the project, and provide sufficient time to consider further analysis of the dam’s impact.

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