On April 19, the four country members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) met to consult on Thai company Ch Karnchang's proposal to build a 1,260MW dam in Xayaburi province on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos. The dam would be financed by Thai banks and sell most of its power to consumers in Thailand. At the meeting, members of the MRC Joint Committee, made up of senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, agreed to disagree and to elevate the decision to the Ministerial Council level.
Messy and inconclusive though the interim outcome on the Xayaburi dam may seem, it nevertheless carries considerable significance for the way in which river policy decisions are conducted in the Mekong. It reflects a maturing of the relationship between the four riparian countries, and it represents a tentative step toward a much more inclusive and informed process of decision-making and influence around the all-important question of the Mekong's future as a flowing river or a stepped series of lakes.
To date, two main constraints have limited rational, balanced and open decision making around dams with potential transboundary impacts in the Mekong River basin. The first is that transboundary discussions have been restricted to governments, which have wanted to maintain good political relations with one another and hence avoid any impression that they are imposing on their neighbours' sovereign rights to develop resources within their own countries. Moreover, within governments the decisions have been devolved mainly to ministries with an in-built predisposition to support hydropower.
This article is older than 60 days, which we reserve for our premium members only.You can subscribe to our premium member subscription, here.