A group of riparian communities opposed to the construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong River in Laos says it will launch a lawsuit against the Thai government next month for signing an agreement to purchase electricity from the hydropower project without disclosing details to the public.
The Chiang Rai-based Lower Mekong People’s Network, which represents communities from seven different provinces in Thailand along the Mekong River, had been collecting signatures from hundreds of people who say they will be negatively affected by the Xayaburi dam’s construction.
“On July 9 we will hold a press conference to launch the lawsuit,” said a representative of the group.
“On July 12 we will perform a Buddhist ceremony near the Mekong River in Chiang Khan, in Loei province, and on July 23 we will formally submit the lawsuit,” she said.
The lawsuit faults the Thai government for making a deal with Laos to buy electricity generated by the U.S. $3.8 billion dam upon its completion, without disclosing the details of the agreement to the public as required by Thai law.
The 1,260-megawatt dam would provide 95 percent of its electricity to Thailand.
The representative also said that members of the group are now collecting signatures and consulting with legal experts to file a legal motion demanding a cancellation of the power agreement between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the Xayaburi Power Co.
She said the Lower Mekong People’s Network would “fight to the end” in opposition to the Xayaburi project.
A riparian Thai villager, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that Lao officials had a duty to explain the cross-border ramifications of the massive dam.
“If Lao officials state that the riparian Thais have no reason to protest the dam, that is inappropriate because the Lao authorities haven’t explained to us villagers about the possible cross-border impacts,” the villager said.
“When those impacts occur, who will be responsible? Studies show that the dam will have negative impacts on people downstream, especially people in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.”
Last month, the Lower Mekong People’s Network submitted a letter to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental body that manages development along the regional artery, requesting an update on the dam, but said it had received no response.
Ch. Karnchang, the Thai company tasked with building the Xayaburi dam, signed an agreement at the end of April to push ahead with construction in defiance of a December ruling by the MRC which called for a comprehensive environmental impact study to more properly identify potential risks.
Also in May, Lao Vice Minister of Energy and Mines Viraponh Viravong said that the dam may have to be redesigned to avoid any adverse impact on the environment, citing a study from a French company hired to conduct an assessment of the dam.
The redesign, he said, would allow more river sediment to flow through the dam, a key concern for downstream countries whose agriculture depends on the river.
Ch. Karnchang only revealed in April that construction of the project in Laos had been stepped up from March 15. It said it expects to finish the project in eight years.
Reports indicate that preliminary construction work, such as the building of access roads, has been ongoing and affecting riparian communities in the vicinity. Over 3,000 residents near the dam site have been relocated to make way for the project, according to the Bangkok Post newspaper.
The Lower Mekong People’s Network, which claims that the dam will destroy the local economy of the communities along the banks of the Mekong, held a series of protests in Bangkok in May against the company and a group of Thai banks lending the firm funds to proceed with construction.
The group says the dam is likely to damage the Mekong ecosystem, fisheries, and food security of the people on both sides of the river.
The Mekong River originates in China and flows through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Its silt deposits provide rich soil nutrients for rice and other crops.
In December, Laos and the three other MRC member countries—Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam—agreed work on the dam should be postponed pending the results of a new environmental impact assessment, which was to be conducted by Japan.
An earlier study by an expert group had recommended a 10-year moratorium on all mainstream Mekong dams due to a need for further research on their potentially catastrophic environmental and socioeconomic impact.
A Lao expert on dams, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFA that the long-term effects of the project would be costlier than the immediate benefits of power production.
“Once produced, power can be easily sold, but the effects on the areas where people live below the dam will be more complicated,” the expert said.
“Their livelihood, agriculture, cattle, forest, and other services will be affected,” he said.
“It will not be as easy as simply producing electricity and then selling it.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.