A new dam planned for construction on the Mekong River in Laos is causing great concern for environmental NGOs from Thailand, who say Laos’ fifth big dam on the river will have adverse effects on fish and people in the region.
The Luangprabang hydropower project would be Laos’ fifth large Mekong dam. The Lao government informed the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on July 31 that it submitted the project to undergo the six-month prior consultation process under the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA).
The MRC Secretariat confirmed to RFA’s Lao Service Monday in an email that the commission received the submission and has submitted notification to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
According to the email, “In the Prior Consultation process, with technical and administrative support from the MRC Secretariat, the notified member countries will review technical aspects of the proposed project, assess any potential transboundary impacts on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. The member countries aim to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. It is not meant to approve or disapprove the proposed project.”
Several NGOs are concerned about the harmful impact of the proposed dam and others like it.
Wora Suk of the Extra Territorial Obligation-Watch (ETO-Watch) told RFA on Friday, "We just heard that the Luangprabang hydro project has been submitted for prior consultation. [Dams] have a tendency to cause environmental and social impacts on communities.”
Meanwhile, an energy expert from Thailand’s Sarakham University noted that a new dam could exacerbate the current water crisis in the region. The dry season lasted longer than normal this year, causing a drought at the beginning of what should have been the rainy season. This was followed by severe flooding.
“In July this year, the Xayaburi dam was test-running electricity in the area near the Thai-Lao border, [accelerating] the unusual drought [conditions]. If Luangprabang dam is built, I think the crisis will get worse,” said the expert.
Channarong Wongla of Thailand’s Love Chiang Khan Network told RFA that the dam would affect wildlife and agriculture.
“The dam will permanently block the migration of fish, making migration more irregular than before,” said Wongla.
Wongla also pointed out that the Xayaburi dam had already affected fish migration and another dam would make things worse.
“[It] will create more impact on the water level, on riparian agriculture and fisheries and it will create more landslides and destroy the ecosystem including aquatic species and vegetation all the way from Laos to the Mekong delta in Vietnam,” he said.
Another Thai environmentalist with the Save Mekong Network pointed out that a new dam would once again create hardship for people living near its proposed site.
“The dam will violate the rights of locals and displace them. The displaced will receive inadequate compensation and there won’t be enough land to farm where they resettle.”
Laos has built hundreds of small and large dams along the Mekong River and its tributaries in its quest to become “the battery of Southeast Asia,” exporting the electricity they generate to other countries in the region.
Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers, and questionable financial arrangements.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.