The Mekong River Commission (MRC) will forgo an opportunity to voice opposition to the Xayaburi dam project – which member state Laos began building in November – when it meets for its annual council meeting next week.
Surasak Glahan, communications officer with the MRC secretariat, confirmed yesterday that member states, which also include Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, will not address the issue of the 1,285-megawatt dam on the Mekong River as part of its official agenda.
“There has not been a request for a particular discussion on the Xayaburi project made by the member countries,” he said.
Water and environment ministers would, however, be updated on the impacts of hydropower projects in broad terms, he said.
Laos began building the $3.8 billion dam – a project environmental groups say will have dire consequences for Cambodia – in defiance of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which stipulates MRC members must agree on river projects before construction.
MRC members agreed in late 2011 that the dam’s potential trans-boundary impacts still needed to be studied.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said the MRC Secretariat needed to be asked why Xayaburi was not on the meeting’s agenda when member states – a reference to Laos and Thailand – had contravened the 1995 agreement and the MRC had not officially closed the dam’s prior consultation process.
“What happens at the council meeting is critical, as the Xayaburi dam has set a bad precedent in future decision making over the Mekong River and the cascade of 10 other mainstream hydropower projects that have been proposed in Laos and Cambodia,” she said.
The MRC’s Glahan insisted that donors understood the body’s role was to provide a platform to discuss and review projects, not approve them.
The donors include Denmark, Sweden, Australia, the US and Germany.
When asked questions about whether the MRC’s response to Laos building Xayaburi was adequate, Denmark and Sweden provided almost identical emailed responses.
“While [Denmark/Sweden] is concerned about the economic, social and environmental risks of the Xayaburi project, we continue to believe that the MRC should provide knowledge-based solutions for this and other hydropower projects,” the statements say.
Australian Greens party senator Lee Rhiannon, who has raised the issue of Australia’s funding of the MRC in parliament, told the Post that her country had a key role to play in the river’s future.
“The Australian Greens urge the Australian government to remind the Laos government of its obligations under the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” she said after Laos began building Xayaburi.
A spokesperson from the Australian Embassy said Aus-Aid had encouraged member countries to engage in open and transparent consultation on Xayaburi and repeatedly called for “further research into the impacts of mainstream development”.
To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at [email protected]