Lao dam project sparks environmental concerns

Lao dam project sparks environmental concerns

The latest dam project set for the Mekong River this year, spearheaded by the Lao government in Luang Prabang province, has renewed fears among other countries through which the river passes of the effect such structures have on the surrounding environment.

Neighbouring countries Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have raised concerns over the potential impact of the hydro dam, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Joint Committee.

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have asked that Laos conduct "rigorous" trans-boundary impact assessment and enhance proposed measures to mitigate against potential adverse effects.

"Concerns brought up during consultations are similar to those neighbouring countries had over Xayaburi dam.

"These concerns dovetail issues of water fluctuation and the much-discussed impact of sediment," Somkiat Prajamwong, chairman of the MRC's Joint Committee, told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Somkiat is also the secretary-general of Thailand's Office of National Water Resources.

According to the MRC, Thai authorities asked the developer to determine the trans-boundary impact and launch an endowment fund. Meanwhile, Cambodian officials expressed concern that soil-enriching sediment might no longer reach farmland within its boundaries.

Vietnamese experts, on the other hand, complained the effects of the latest dam on the river should have been analysed cumulatively as there are already two other dams on the lower section of the Mekong -- Xayaburi dam and Don Sahong dam.

Another issue is the proximity of the construction to both an active fault line 8 kilometres away and the historic, Unesco-listed town of Luang Prabang 25km to the south.

However, the MRC's consultation process carries no legal weight and the Lao government is adamant that it wishes to begin work on the 1,460-megawatt hydro dam this year. It hopes to begin selling electricity from the dam to Thailand and Vietnam by 2027.

The MRC only requires member countries to engage in a consultation process.

The dam, which is said to cost US$4 billion (124 billion baht) is a co-development between the Lao government and the state-owned Vietnamese electricity firm PetroVietnam.

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