Battle for the Mekong Heats Up (Page 2 of 2)

But fisheries experts say that long before the river is fully blocked, existing construction will disturb the riverbed enough to significantly affect fish populations and the flow of sediments downstream.

Dr. Jian-hua Meng, a sustainable hydropower specialist working at the WWF, argues that, “This will be the first direct intervention in the riverbed, and will mark a milestone in the ongoing dam construction.”

According to a WWF report, which was strongly critical of the Dam project, Viraphonh Viravong, Laos’s Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, contradicted the foreign minister when he allegedly told the MRC-led delegation that the project would proceed without further reviews.

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Since September 2010 ongoing consultations based on the MRC regulatory framework has resulted in the Lao government trying to answer the strong objections from Cambodia and Vietnam. Unsatisfied, Vietnam has called for a 10-year moratorium on dam construction.

To answer these objections Laos appointed two foreign consultants: the Swiss –based Poyry Energy and French company CNR (Compagnie Nationale du Rhone).

Still, Cambodia and Vietnam remain convinced that any dam will block fish migration and reduce the flow of sediment.

Both foreign consultants argue that fish ladders or fish passes can enable 85% of all fish to get past the turbines and successfully swim up or down river but this claim has not been fully tested.

Indeed, many dismissed Poyry’s previous report- a compliance review of the Xayaburi Dam in 2011 regarding the consultation process with its neighbors- as lacking the necessarily scientific data.

It’s also worth noting that the Finnish-based Poyry has been blacklisted by the World Bank for unrelated corruption charges that have led the CEO to resign. This calls into question its credibility.

Very different advice to the Lao government came from the visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said last month that, “I’ll be very honest with you; We made a lot of mistakes…. We’ve learned some hard lessons about what happens when you make certain infrastructure decisions, and I think that we all can contribute to helping the nations of the Mekong region avoid the mistakes that we and others made.”

Washington is also concerned that if the Xayaburi dam goes ahead, China is lined up to build at least three more dams further down the Mekong thus penetrating ever deeper into the Mekong sub-region.

NGOs representing people from the eight provinces in northeast Thailand are about to file legal action in the courts to force the Thai government to review the contract with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the state’s electricity body. Thailand has agreed to buy 95% of all the power generated from the Xayaburi dam.

The Thai government has quietly endorsed the MRC consensus that further scientific study is needed. Now NGOs are demanding that  the Thai government do more and use its power to freeze the Xayaburi/EGAT contract, which in turn would pressure the Thai dam-builder Karnchang to halt the project.

According to scientists the stakes are high in this ongoing battle over sustainable development. WWF’s Dr. Jian-hua Meng has warned, for instance, that “Resting the future of the Mekong on flawed analysis and gaps in critical data could have dire consequences for the livelihoods of millions of people living in the Mekong river basin.

Tom Fawthrop is a Thailand-based journalist and producer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Al-Jazeera and the New Statesman, among other publications.

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