Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NY Times: Laos Presses Ahead With Mekong Dam


Laos Presses Ahead With Mekong Dam Project

Published: November 6, 2012

BANGKOK � Ignoring criticism that a huge hydroelectric dam could
irreparably damage the ecology of the Mekong River, the government of
Laos said on Tuesday that it was pushing ahead with the multibillion-
dollar project, the first dam to be built on the lower portion of the
iconic river.

�I would say I�m 100 percent sure it�s going ahead,� Daovong Phonekeo,
deputy director general of the Laotian Department of Electricity, said
by telephone on Tuesday.

Laotian government officials and executives of a Thai construction
company that is to build the dam are to officially inaugurate the
project at a ceremony on Wednesday in Xayaburi, the remote province in
northwestern Laos where the dam is to be situated.

The electricity from the project will be sold to Thailand and will
provide billions of dollars of revenue to Laos, one of the poorest
countries in Asia. But the project has been criticized by scientists
who are concerned that the dam may disturb spawning patterns and lead
to the extinction of many species of fish that have for centuries been
the main source of protein for millions of people along the river�s

The United States State Department issued a statement on Monday
questioning the rush to complete the dam. �The extent and severity of
impacts from the Xayaburi dam on an ecosystem that provides food
security and livelihoods for millions are still unknown,� it said.

The State Department said it was concerned that countries sharing the
river �have not reached consensus on whether the project should

The Mekong River passes through parts of Thailand, Cambodia and
Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.

Although the dam is being constructed on a part of the Mekong River
that is entirely inside Laos, riparian countries of the lower Mekong
signed an agreement in 1995 to consult with one another before
proceeding with large projects on the river.

Laos appears to have steamrollered through that process despite
objections raised at a meeting last December, when representatives
from Vietnam and Cambodia called for further studies.

Laos says it is satisfying the requirement to consult with other
countries � but only consult. �This is not an international issue,�
said Mr. Daovong of the Department of Electricity. �It�s more an
internal affair.�

That approach has left environmentalists incensed.

�It�s unbelievable that just a small group of people who hold power
are able to doom the river,� said Pianporn Deetes, a Thai
environmental activist who was born and grew up near the Mekong in
northern Thailand.

�We are not just crazily opposing the project,� she said. �What we
want is some information on the pros and cons.�

Thai environmentalists say there is a troubling precedent: A dam
constructed two decades ago in northeastern Thailand on the Mun River
led to the disappearance of nearly two-thirds of the 265 species in
the river.

Laotian officials and Thai executives involved in the Xayaburi project
dismiss criticism of the dam as the misinformed concerns of a small
group of activists.

Environmentalists are �trying to stir up controversy and anger among
uneducated villagers and mislead people,� Rewat Suwanakitti, the
deputy managing director of Xayaburi Power, the company leading the
project, said by telephone.

Hans Guttman, chief executive of the Mekong River Commission, the
advisory organization that coordinates studies and meetings among the
four lower-Mekong countries, said Laos had proposed several changes to
the dam to address criticism, including a system that would flush
sediment downstream and a revised �fish ladder� to help fish bypass
the dam and reach spawning grounds.

But the Laotian government has not yet provided a revised blueprint of
the dam, Mr. Guttman said. �We have not seen it and we are not aware
of it,� he said.

The Thai foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, said on Tuesday
that the government was �not opposed� to the dam.

Construction of the dam will begin �right after the ceremony� on
Wednesday, said Mr. Rewat, the Xayaburi Power executive.

Much work has already been done. C. H. Karnchang, a Thai company that
is carrying out the construction, has spent the past two years
building access roads and hauling equipment to the remote site.

(More coverage: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/11/laos-to-begin-building-hotly-debated-dam-this-week.html
and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20203072)

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