Activists slam Lao dam hearings

Activists slam Lao dam hearings

Civil society groups on Thursday criticised the Lao government over delays to public hearings for the controversial 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower dam.

The hearing, or "prior consultation meeting" will begin in Pakse today, more than four months after it was scheduled to get underway.

But activists said the exercise is likely to be fruitless and will serve only to justify the construction of the dam in Laos' Champasak province.

Following pressure from groups concerned about the ecological impact of the dam, the Lao government agreed at a Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting in June to organise the hearing process over a period of six months, beginning on July 25.

"The Lao government has clearly stated they intend to proceed with the Don Sahong dam, in spite of the ongoing prior consultation process," said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director for International Rivers (IR). "With this attitude, it is difficult to see how the process can be anything more than a rubber stamp."

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have expressed concern about the potential trans-boundary impact of the dam. A Mekong agreement means the three countries are also required to consult people about the project.

Representatives of civil society and state officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam yesterday visited the dam site, where preparation for construction work began more than a year ago.

At the Second MRC summit in April, Cambodia and Vietnam called for the Don Sahong dam project to be delayed to allow for a trans-boundary impact assessment. The project has been criticised for lacking such a study.

Thai villagers living along Mekong basin have expressed fears the project may affect fish in the river.

"The prior consultation process for the Don Sahong dam has been set up to fail, visibly following the same pattern as the Xayaburi dam," said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for IR.

The construction of the Xayaburi hydropower dam began in early 2012, before the government launched the prior consultation process for the 1,285-megawatt power generating facility.

The Thai Department of Water Resources has organised meetings on the Don Sahong project in five provinces. Meetings were held in Nakhon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani this week, but locals said no documents were distributed to them in advance.

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