Laos hydropower project on Mekong faces opposition
By Pongphon Sarnsamak, The Nation, June 27, 2010
A civic group has opposed the Laos government's plan to build the Xayaburi hydropower plant, the first dam in the Lower Mekong River's mainstream, as more than 40 villages in Laos will be adversely affected and need to be relocated.
Pianporn Deetes from Save the River Coalition said the Xayaburi Dam will affect more than 40 villages along the mekong River, from Louangprabang province to Xayaburi province.
This dam will also affect the incubation of freshwater tropical fish such as giant catfish and other aquatic life as the construction will destroy the islets and boulders where the mekong giant catfish lay their eggs.
She said the river run-off Xayaburi Dam is the first dam that will be built in the Lower mekong River's mainstream.
The dam will produce 1,260 megawatts of power. The plan to build this hydropower dam was initiated by the Laos government. Thai company Ch Karnchang will invest Bt90 billion in its construction. The total project cost is expected to exceed Bt100 billion.
According to the report entitled "MRC Sea for hydropower on the mekong Mainstream inception Report Vol II", the inundated area of the Xayaburi dam will cover 49 square kilometres and the length of the reservoir will be 90km.
Construction will take seven and a half years. About 10 villages, 391 households, and 2,130 people will need to be relocated.
Electricity generated from the plant will be sold to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) in 2019.
Meanwhile, local villagers living along the river voiced concern that the dam construction should not affect their original livelihood.
A villager, who did not want to be named and lives near the Xayaburi site, said he had not been given much information about the impact of the dam.
He said staff from a Thai construction company had surveyed the site and asked the villagers to move to another location.
The villagers were told that the company will build their houses at another location and will also construct road, provide water supply and electricity.
Additionally, villagers who own teak farms will be paid 150,000 kip (Bt600) per teak as compensation.
The villagers were also worried that the construction of the dam might affect fisheries and fish migration in the mekong River.
A villager said the company staff had told them that they will build a fish ladder. Additionally, the company's staff also told them that they will build a special channel to facilitate passage for boats.
This village is more than 150 years old, with most of the villagers making their money from fish harvesting and agricultural plantation.
"We will not move to the other location until the construction of our new houses are finished," a 50-year-old villager said.
Another 47-year-old villager said he does not want to move to the other location due to sentimental attachment for the present village.
He said his village was located near the mekong River and he could harvest fish to earn his livelihood. If he moves to the other location, he is not sure what he could do to earn his livelihood.
About 780 people live in his village. All of them have to move to the other location when the dam construction starts. Most of the villagers in his village are farmers and fishermen.
"Villagers are now worried about their future as they do not want to move to the other location," he said
However, Pianporn added that the proposal to build the Xayaburi Dam will be put in the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement, which states that if a country is to build hydropower dams on a mekong tributary, it must notify the Joint Committee of the mekong River Commission (MRC).
Then Ch Karnchang will submit the feasibility and impact assessment report to the Laos government, which would forward this report to MRC members.