NGO Coalition Boycotts Prior Consultation Process For Proposed Lao Dam

Save the Mekong says it does not believe that a review of the Pak Lay dam can be conducted in a meaningful or effective way.

The Don Sahong hydroelectric dam under construction on the Mekong River in the Siphandone area of southwestern Laos' Champasak province is seen in an undated video screen shot.

A coalition of NGOs and community-based groups dedicated to raising public awareness about the risks associated with dams on the Mekong River said Friday that it will boycott the prior consultation process for the proposed Pak Lay hydropower project in Laos.

“Save the Mekong coalition is boycotting the Pak Lay prior consultation because serious and outstanding concerns regarding each of the mainstream dams that have undergone the process to date — the Xayaburi, Don Sahong, and Pak Beng dams — remain unresolved,” the coalition said in a statement.

The group said that requests for information about the projects’ impacts expressed during their prior consultations were not formally addressed, including calls for the extension of the consultation periods.

It also cited a seven-year study issued in February, indicating that a series of dams on the Mekong’s mainstream and tributaries poses threats to the region’s ecological health, economic vitality, and food security.

Prior consultation is a required procedure under the 1995 Mekong Agreement by Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand to establish the Mekong River Commission (MRC) as a platform for regional cooperation among the countries along the key regional waterway.

It allows member nations to jointly review proposed dam projects on the Mekong mainstream with the aim of reaching an agreement on whether the project should proceed and under what conditions.

The MRC’s Joint Committee Working Group decided to begin a six-month prior consultation process for the Pak Lay dam on Aug. 8 — a day after the Lao government announced a suspension of new dam projects and independent investigations of existing ones, following the collapse of an auxiliary dam at the U.S. $1 billion Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project in Champasak province last month.

The July 23 disaster caused severe flooding that claimed the lives of at least 40 villagers, according to official figures, and displaced thousands of others who are living in temporary camps.

“We issued a statement opposing the prior consultation on the Pak Lay dam project, [and] we will not participate in the process set up by the MRC and representatives of the member countries,” Thirapong Poman, director of the Mekong Community Institute and coordinator of the Save the Mekong Coalition told RFA’s Lao Service on Friday.

The main reason that the coalition is boycotting the process is because the Pak Lay dam and other dams in Laos will destroy the environment, ecosystems, and livelihoods of many people in the region, he said.

“Previous prior consultations have been regarded as a rubber stamp to satisfy community consultation obligations,” Wora Suk of the Thai Extraterritorial Obligation-Watch Working Group and a member of Save the Mekong, said in a statement. “In reality, these processes have not taken community concerns into account.”

Despite a recent order by the Lao government to halt new dam investments, the developers of the Pak Lay and Pak Beng hydropower projects told RFA last week that they are pressing ahead with their construction plans because they have not been informed by provincial authorities that they should stop their work.

A series of 11 large hydropower dams on the Mekong’s lower mainstream and roughly 120 tributary dams are planned for 2040. The 770-megawatt Pak Lay hydropower project in northwestern Laos’ Xayaburi province would be the fourth dam on the lower Mekong mainstream, after the Xayburi, Don Sahong, and Pak Beng dams.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.