Protests Planned Against Dam Builder

An agreement to step up construction of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos has angered riparian communities.

2012.04.18
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xayaburi-map-305 A map showing Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos.
RFA

Residents of Mekong River communities in Laos and Thailand on Wednesday criticized moves by a Thai company to go full steam ahead with the construction of the Xayaburi dam on the river despite calls in the region for further studies on the project’s environmental impact.

The Mekong Downstream People’s Network, an environmental group with representatives from riparian communities in eight northeastern provinces in Thailand, plan to hold protests in front of the Bangkok headquarters of the publicly listed company, Ch. Karnchang.

Ch. Karnchang signed a U.S. $1.7 billion agreement Tuesday with a Lao power company for the building of the dam in Laos that has been strongly opposed by green groups.

“The Ch. Karnchang construction company has ignored the Mekong River Commission resolution,” a group representative from Thailand’s northeastern Nakhon Phanom province said, referring to an agreement by the intergovernment body which comprises Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In December, leaders from those countries agreed further study was needed on the sustainable management and development of the river before the Xayaburi project could continue.

In response, Laos temporarily shelved plans for the dam pending further environmental assessments.

It is not immediately known whether the Lao government had been officially informed by the companies that signed the contract Tuesday for the construction of the dam, which will provide 95 percent of its power to Thailand. 

Lao government officials have not commented on the contract signed in Bangkok.

The planned hydropower project would be the first mainstream dam on the lower part of the Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s main artery.

“Data from every study [on the dam] has said there will be trans-boundary impacts. It is a river we use its resources together,” an activist from Chiang Rai, the northernmost Thai province, said Wednesday.

“Any use of the river should give importance to its ecosystem and to the livelihood of people in the community which depends on fishery,” he said.

The Mekong Downstream People’s Network’s Nahkon Phanom representative said the Thai activists will protest at Ch. Karnchang’s headquarters next week.

“The people in the eight riparian provinces will not give up. On April 24, we will go to Ch. Karnchang ourselves, asking them to review all the agreement they have signed,” he said.

Last April, representatives from the same group had protested outside the Ch. Karnchang headquarters.

Local villagers

In the meantime, preliminary construction around the dam site has continued, according to reports from the U.S.-based environmental group International Rivers.

Villagers living near the dam site said some are concerned about the dam’s impact on the local community.

“I think the construction of the dam is a way of destroying nature and the rich resources of the river. It reflects how people are intertwined and it impacts people’s livelihoods,” said one Xayaburi villager who did not wish to be named. 

Villagers living near the dam site will be forced to move, and the government will build new homes for them, residents say.

Another Xayaburi resident said none of the locals want to move out from their old villages because they have always lived there, and they depend on the surrounding natural environment.

“Once we move out, we will lose everything we have built for generations,” he said.

Laos has planned over 70 hydropower dams on its rivers and said it hopes to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia.

Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Somnet Inthaphanna. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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