Environmental organizations and civil society groups have expressed concern at plans to build another dam along the Mekong River in Laos and asked the Lao government to suspend the project due to the effects it will have on communities, water flow and fishery resources in Cambodia.
In a joint statement, the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) said Laos’ Pak Beng Hydropower Dam was a danger to biodiversity along the Mekong River and may have grievous effects on a source of food for millions of citizens in the countries downstream.
They asked the Lao government to stop consultations on the project until the Mekong River Commission (MRC) council finishes its research into how groups can mitigate the damage done by the dam.
“We urge the government to recognize and support all of these requests,” they wrote.
The Pak Beng Dam – slated for construction in Laos’ Oudomxay province – is the third to be built along the Mekong after the Xayaburi Dam and the Don Sahong Dam, both of which are nearing completion. The new dam will produce 912 megawatts of electricity and was announced in November 2016.
Government officials from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand were invited to Laos in December to discuss the project and move it forward.
Last month, the MRC released its own statement criticizing the project and asking the governments to hold off on construction until proper environmental assessments are done.
“Construction of both Xayaburi and Don Sahong has progressed at a rapid pace, but the outstanding concerns cannot be simply forgotten and must be addressed before consideration of further hydropower projects on the lower Mekong River,” the MRC wrote in January.
“If the government of Laos is sincere in operating in ‘good faith’ and according to the spirit of cooperation required by the 1995 Mekong Agreement, they should suspend planning and construction activities on the Pak Beng Dam and transparently respond to the concerns of neighboring countries and regional communities over the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, before initiating a new consultation process.”
Tek Vannara, the executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said Cambodia has negative past experiences with the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, both of which he said had caused negative impacts on the community and environment which people are still dealing with today.
“We do not want this experience anymore, especially for this Pak Beng Dam which we have requested [the government] to stop. It will cause impacts directly and indirectly to approximately 300 million people who rely on the Mekong River,” he said.
Chief among those with concerns about the dam are fishermen, who have already seen the effects of the Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River and are anticipating even more changes with the new dam’s construction.
Long Sochet, the head of the Coalition of Cambodian Fishers (CCF) from Pursat province, said the Mekong River is the main water source and fisheries resource for the Tonle Sap Lake.
The Pak Beng Dam, he said, will affect the livelihoods of citizens living along the river, flooding forests and farm land around the Tonle Sap.
“We are really worried about this issue. On behalf of the community who lives on the Mekong River as well as the Tonle Sap lake, we do not support the development of this hydroelectric dam on the Mekong River because it can affect life around the area,” he said.
Te Navuth, the secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee (CNMC), could not be reached for comment and Water Resources Hydrology and River Works department spokesman Yin Savuth declined to comment, telling Khmer Times he did not have enough information.
Scientists and environmentalists have long decried efforts to build dams along the Mekong, protesting against a variety of projects that are now under construction.
The Cambodian government has acknowledged the protests and concerns of residents, but said it is important for citizens to have access to stable energy sources which can help the country develop.
They have criticized those who want the projects shut down, asking them to provide viable alternative energy sources in place of dams instead of only condemnation.
However, water resources and hydropower researcher Oeun Chantha said the governments along the Mekong had a duty to study the technical, economic and social impacts of dams on local residents and hydrology changes before approving any project.
He also called on Southeast Asian governments to recognize the Mekong as an international body of water that can be affected by any action taken at any point along its course.
“The Mekong River is an international river which cannot benefit one country alone,” he said.
Source: Khmer Times