An intergovernmental body that supervises development along the Mekong River must address regional concerns over the controversial Don Sahong dam project in Laos at its annual consultation meeting next week, an environmental watchdog said Thursday.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has failed to answer questions about the future of the Don Sahong and should focus on the project at the June 22 meeting of its Joint Committee, representing all four lower Mekong governments, global environmental group International Rivers said in a statement.
“It is critical that the MRC break their silence regarding next steps for the regional decision-making process over the Don Sahong Dam,” Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for International Rivers said in the statement, ahead of the meeting in the Lao capital Vientiane.
“The MRC has a responsibility to ensure that the concerns of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are not swept under the rug.”
At a special meeting of the MRC’s Joint Committee held in January, the governments of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam expressed concern that the potential impacts of the Don Sahong dam—the second dam proposed for construction on the Lower Mekong mainstream—remain unclear.
As part of the MRC’s prior consultation process, the three governments requested an extension to the process to allow for further studies that might provide a better assessment of the project’s impact and to verify the validity of its mitigation measures.
The decision on how to proceed was deferred to ministerial level deliberations when the three governments and the government of Laos were unable to agree, and the Joint Committee agreed to seek further guidance from the MRC Council.
However, International Rivers noted, the council has not held a special meeting since January talks broke down, and there has been no indication that studies requested by Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam—which, like Laos, all border the Mekong—are being carried out.
Meanwhile, construction at the dam site has continued, and Malaysian project developer MegaFirst Corporation Berhad has been in ongoing negotiations with China’s Sinohydro International Corporation over the contracts for the project.
The National Assembly, or parliament, of Laos re-opened for sessions on June 7 and International Rivers said approval of the Don Sahong dam’s concession agreement is expected to have been on the agenda for discussion.
“Laos appears intent on taking advantage of the lack of action by the MRC and has used the silence surrounding the Don Sahong Dam to push ahead with the project, defying the requests from neighboring countries and ignoring their responsibilities under the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers.
“Preparations for the Don Sahong Dam have progressed at a rapid pace despite insufficient studies, a lack of meaningful consultation and no regional agreement.”
Trandem called on the Lao government to “immediately halt all construction” on the Don Sahong dam and remove all equipment from the site, as the MRC’s Prior Consultation process remains unresolved.
“The MRC must address the ongoing regional disagreement surrounding the project, and respond to the concerns over the project which have been expressed not only by neighboring governments, but also Mekong people,” she said.
“As a next step, the MRC and its member countries should call for an emergency Council Meeting to discuss the Don Sahong Dam.”
Conservation groups also have urged the Lao government to postpone construction of the dam, arguing that it will block migratory fish routes and destroy endangered ecosystems, threatening nutrition and livelihoods across regional boundaries.
Mega First is building the dam on the Mekong River, just two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of Cambodia.
In March, Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said explosives used to remove millions of tons of rock for the Don Sahong dam could damage the hearing or potentially kill endangered dolphins located two miles away.
The dam also would block the only channel available for dry-season fish migrations on the Mekong River and the millions who rely on it for food and livelihoods, the group said.