Laos will conduct a new environmental study to determine the impact of a controversial dam project on the water levels and wildlife of the Mekong River, according to a Lao energy official.
Bountheung Phengthavongsa, director general of the Lao Energy and Mining Ministry, said that construction will begin on the U.S. $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam if the study predicts little effect on the river’s ecology.
“A government order has been issued that requires related authorities to seek out experts to redo the environmental impact assessment,” he said.
“The Lao government has stressed that the new study must focus on the impact of the dam on fish, on the migration of fish, and whether or not it will cause the extinction of certain species.”
The ministry official said that the study would also be used to determine whether the dam will flood villages above the reservoir or cause drought to areas below the dam.
“This means the Xayaburi dam project is still alive. If everything is OK, the government will give a green light to begin construction,” he said.
“If the result of the new study is satisfactory to all parties, Laos will build this dam right away.”
‘A difference in views’
Laos said in April it would defer a decision to begin construction on the Xayaburi after the plan met with opposition from neighboring countries, particularly Vietnam, which share the river’s resources.
Critics say the dam 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.
At a meeting held on April 19 in the Lao capital Vientiane, officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam issued a joint statement which said that there was "still a difference in views" and that the issue should be handled at ministerial level. A meeting is expected later this year.
Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam said additional studies will be required to determine the potential impact of the Xayaburi dam.
In May, Vietnam’s official media reported that Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong informed his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung "of Laos' decision to temporarily suspend” the Xayaburi project.
But Laos officials did not confirm the report based on a meeting of the two leaders at the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia.
CH. Karnchang, the Thai construction company which won the bid to construct the project, has already begun to build roads on the dam site.
‘Battery of Asia’