‘False Claims’ in Dam Report

A report commissioned by the Lao government gives the green light to a controversial dam.

xayaburiconstruction-305.jpg A caterpillar works on the access road to the Xayaburi dam in Laos in an undated photo.
Photo appears courtesy of International Rivers

A new report commissioned by the Lao government makes “false claims” regarding the impact of a planned hydroelectric dam in the landlocked country and should not be used as a basis for proceeding with the project, according to a conservation group.

Despite acknowledging uncertainties about how the Xayaburi Dam would affect riparian communities in Laos and other countries along the Mekong River, the report, released Wednesday by Swiss company Pöyry Energy AG, recommends that the dam be built, falsely claiming concerns about the project have been addressed, the U.S.-based International Rivers said in a statement Wednesday.

“The Pöyry report sidesteps science and relies instead on guesswork, making it an unsuitable basis for decision-making on the Xayaburi Dam,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers.

“Pöyry claims that the project complies with Mekong River Commission (MRC) guidelines, despite listing over 40 major scientific and technical studies that still need to be completed. It would be irresponsible of Laos and other Mekong countries to support the Xayaburi Dam based on the false claims of this report.”

The Lao government hired Pöyry Energy AG in May to undertake a three-month evaluation of the project’s compliance with the MRC’s requirements for Mekong Mainstream Dams after the regional body decided in April to defer any decision on the U.S. $3.8 billion project to the end of 2011.

The MRC, which consists of Laos and neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, concluded at the time that the potential for damage to rice farming and fishing communities along the river warranted the suspension of work on the dam.

In early September, the Lao government announced that the Pöyry report would be presented to neighboring governments as part of a plan to begin full construction on the dam before the end of the year.

Sulasak Krahan, a public relations officer for the MRC, told RFA in an interview that his organization had received a copy of the report and was in the process of reviewing Pöyry’s findings.

“The MRC has received the report on Xayaburi dam project and our experts are now reviewing it. The review is expected to be completed soon and the MRC will inform the public of our findings.”

While Laos has yet to publicly disclose the report, a leaked copy has recently been widely circulated.

Report shortcomings

International Rivers said it has identified at least 15 “fundamental” MRC requirements with which the Xayaburi Dam still does not comply.

“The Pöyry report avoids mentioning many of these requirements, and instead proposes unproven mitigation measures without having basic data about who, what, when, and how much will be impacted,” International Rivers said.

In particular, the group noted the report’s lack of provisions for an MRC requirement that the dam include safe passage for at least 95 percent of key fish species. Instead, it said, Pöyry promoted technologies that have never been applied on the Mekong River or used successfully in any tropical river.

“Fishery experts from around the world have concluded that no technology exists to effectively mitigate the impacts mainstream dams would have on the world’s largest inland fishery,” International Rivers said.

The river conservation group said it found several other shortcomings in the Pöyry report, including analysis of ecosystems, sediment flows, and dam safety.

Critics of the dam say it would destroy the river’s ecology and disrupt the livelihood of riparian communities that rely on it for their livelihood.

They also fear that proceeding with the Xayaburi dam would give a green light to construction on as many as 10 other hydropower projects planned for the lower Mekong.

Several groups have issued warnings that any dam built in the area may be at risk of collapse because the site is prone to earthquakes.

In the report, Pöyry falsely claims that a regional prior consultation process on the Xayaburi is already complete and that the Lao government can make a unilateral decision on whether to proceed on the dam, International Rivers said.

“Pöyry incorrectly asserts that the Lao government is not required to respond to the concerns of other governments and the MRC about the project’s transboundary impacts before the dam’s construction begins,” it said.

Map showing the proposed Xayaburi dam project.

Government push

International Rivers said that the Lao government had been working hard to push the dam project forward—proceeding with construction on access roads and work camps despite the lack of a regional agreement.

“It’s not surprising Laos has commissioned Pöyry as their hired gun given their long history of involvement in controversial projects in the Mekong region and their close ties to the Xayaburi Dam’s main builder, Ch. Karnchang,” Trandem said in the statement.

“Poyry and Ch. Karnchang are currently working together on another hydropower project in Laos, the Nam Ngum 2 Dam. It comes as no surprise that Pöyry would give its business partner a positive review, despite strong evidence to the contrary.”

With plans to build a total of 70 hydropower projects, Laos hopes to become “the battery” of Asia.

International Rivers said that as the first Mekong mainstream dam to undergo the MRC’s prior consultation process, the Xayaburi will set the bar for how decisions are made on all 11 dams proposed for the river.

“Over 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population in the Lower Mekong Basin, are involved in the Mekong’s fisheries at least part-time or seasonally. The future lives of many depend on governments’ willingness to say no to the Xayaburi Dam,” it said.

A decision on the Xayaburi Dam is expected to be made at the upcoming MRC Council meeting, scheduled for Dec. 7-9 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English with additional reporting by by Joshua Lipes.


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Nov 09, 2011 02:36 PM

It is good for Laopeaple,and must better than nuclear energy. You have to look in two different way.look back our Laopeaple,what we need to improve our country,our living standard.Why don't your peaple worry about Xayabury Dam?Worry about Fish? worry about in the other country,they know how to take care their problem.What about Laopeaple who care? We are more important than Fish.WE have the rigth to use our nature to improve our gountry.It is in our land.Why don't you oppose China upper Mekong Dam? What is wrong with your organization?

Nov 10, 2011 09:43 AM

I think the International Rivers never agree in any project in Lao, they only mention about the poverty, but never does anything to help Lao. The Lao government does the right thing, this dam will helps to improve the living standard. I want to ask the International Rivers, do you have anything to help Lao? beside sitting there and complain. I can debate about this subject.

Jan 25, 2012 02:43 PM

It is quite clear that a lot of the commentors are not clear about the situation in Laos.
The current Laos, Cambodia and even Vietnam situation is that a large number of people are depending on the fisheries to maintain sustenance. The dams have a big possibilities to wipe out the livelihood of these people. Money and electricity are no use to these people because their only menas of living will be destoryed ( if the impact is great ). So if the dams are to be built, to provide electicity to sell to Thailand, what is Laos planning to do for these people who will lose their means of living? Both Laos, and Cambodia will have to restructured their emplyment and living pattern to make way for the dams. If I remembered correctly, up to 40 million people may be affected. That's a big number of people to reeducate and regear for change in livelihood.

Nov 11, 2011 03:51 AM

Yes, I think it is good to build this hydoelectric dam if lao government really wants to help improving the living standard of lao people. The proplems right now in Laos there are many hydroelectic dams but the well being of the Laotian still living in poverty, because the money the government made from the hydroelectric dams went to the Lao authorities account.
The Lao government doesn't care about the well being of the Laotians, they care about how to keep their power alive and how to make more money for thier families.

Nov 10, 2011 11:29 AM

The hydroelectric dams across the Mekong River constitute the real potential and direct interests for Laos. We recognize that the Mekong River is an international river but no any country or any organization has a right of veto to stop Laos to use it the for its own interests. Laos has a duty to inform and consult with other recipient countries before building the dams. The resolutions adopted by the Mekong River Commission have only a consultative nature without any biding. The conservation groups have nothing to do with the dams; those groups don’t care about the well being of the Laotians. They want to keep Laos in the least developed countries list of the UN.