Mekong nations urge Laos to review Luang Prabang dam impacts

By Viet Anh   July 1, 2020 | 08:59 pm PT
Mekong nations urge Laos to review Luang Prabang dam impacts
A local villager drives a boat where the future site of the Luang Prabang dam will be on the Mekong River, outskirt of Luang Prabang province, Laos, February 5, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Panu Wongcha-um.
Neighboring countries have called on Laos to consider the cross-border environmental impacts of a hydropower plant it plans to build on the Mekong River.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand expressed concern after the Mekong River Commission (MRC) completed a six-month consultation process for the Luang Prabang Dam project on Tuesday. The MRC is an inter-governmental organization that works directly with the governments of Indochina countries to manage shared water resources.

Construction of the 1,400-megawatt Luang Prabang was set to begin this year.

The three countries said in a proposal put forward at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission Joint Committee that Laos should take measures to reduce the potential harm from the project.

The committee comprises senior officials at no less than Head of Department level from the four countries.

Cambodia wanted Laos to do further cross-border environmental impact assessments and provide more documents on silt management strategies.

Thailand said the country has to identify measures to minimize cross-border impacts on the economy, society, livelihoods, and environment.

Vietnam urged Laos and the other MRC members to make a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of not just Luang Prabang but all other dams on the Mekong’s mainstream.

Chanthanet Boualapa, who led the Lao delegation to the committee meeting, said his government is committed to addressing major concerns, willing to share more information and organize visits to the project for joint oversight to make sure it would not have major negative impacts and could benefit all related parties.

Laos had made changes to its dam safety guidelines in line with international standards, and all new projects, including the Luang Prabang, would have to follow them, he said.

In July last year Laos notified the MRC Secretariat of its intention to hold a Prior Consultation on the project. The notification contained a detailed description of the dam for the secretariat to review and inform the other member countries about its scope and other requirements.

The MRC’s Joint Committee Working Group on the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) met on October 8 and picked that date as the official starting date of the six-month consultation process. It was scheduled to end on April 7 this year, but was adjourned following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Luang Prabang is Laos' fifth hydropower project to come up before the MRC. The state-owned Luang Prabang Power Company Limited and PetroVietnam Power Corporation, a subsidiary of Vietnamese oil and gas company PetroVietnam, are the project developers.

The dam will be built in Houygno village in Luang Prabang Province.

Laos inaugurated the 1,285-MW Xayaburi Dam in October and the 260-MW Don Sahong Dam in January despite objections by environmental groups.

It also plans to build the Pak Lay and Sanakham dams.

Hydropower development is central to Laos’ plans to export around 20,000 MW of electricity to its neighbors by 2030.

The Mekong flows 4,880 km from its origins in Tibet through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam before reaching the sea.

China has built 19 hydropower plants on the river.

Experts have repeatedly blamed them for causing record low water levels and serious water shortages in downstream countries since 2019.

An MRC report said water levels during the early flood season in June and July last year were among the lowest on record. In Thailand's Chiang Rai Province it went down to 2.1 meters against the average of 3.02 meters over the past 57 years.

From the upper reaches of the river’s lower basin in Thailand’s Chiang Saen down to Thailand’s Nong Khai and Cambodia’s Neak Luong, the water fell even lower than the record levels seen in 1992.

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