Dam construction goes ahead in Laos despite eco warningsJune 2014
The building of a second hydroelectric dam on the Mekong river, which conservationists claim will have devastating effects, is about to start in Laos.
The fear is that the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam will threaten many of the 1,200-plus fish species in the Mekong and take away the livelihoods of villagers dependent on fishing and related activities.
Ecologists particularly are worried that the project will kill off the rare Irrawaddy dolphins remaining in the Mekong. Only 85 are thought to be in existence. WWF warns that the greatest risks to the dolphins are the sound waves from explosives used in excavating millions of tons of rock, the increased boat traffic, water pollution and habitat degradation.
The developer appointed by the Laos government, Mega First Corporation Berhad, a Malaysian company, replies that the dam will have “no significant impact” on the environment and will create new channels for fish migration.
Last October Laos told the Mekong River Commission, an agency promoting the sustainable management of the waterway, that it intended to start construction.
Neighbouring Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam maintained the project should be subject to consultation with commission members and that a consensus should be reached.
Laos argued that the dam fell outside those provisions as it would be on one of the many channels created by the Khone Phapheng waterfall, a popular beauty spot, not in the Mekong mainstream.
The commission referred the issue to its council, its highest level, consisting of member states’ water and environment ministers, which still has to give a ruling.
However, the commission is clearly little more than a talking shop as an earlier plan, for the Xayaburi dam further up-river in northern Laos, is now proceeding, even though the council could not reach a consensus.
Objections to Xayaburi were that it would displace at least 2,100 villagers, remove agricultural land and destroy fishermen’s livelihoods. Today people are already being told to prepare to move.
More discontent could be looming. Last year Laos said it was planning ten more hydropower dams on the Mekong. Now it is talking of another 60.
Most of the electricity will be sold to Thailand and Cambodia to boost the economy of Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries.
Nam Viyaketh, the industry and commerce minister, wants to turn his nation into the “battery of south-east Asia”. When the dams were being considered in 2010 he predicted: “Laos can be rich.”
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