BANGKOK Oct 3 Laos is to forge ahead with a
second hydro power dam on the Mekong river, side-stepping its
commitment to consult its downstream neighbours before starting
Laos on Monday notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a
consultative body that works with lower basin countries -
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - of its intent to build
the 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam, despite calls from foreign
donors to consult neighbours that face a risk of depleted fish
stocks and damaged livelihoods.
The four countries are bound by a treaty to hold
inter-governmental consultations before building any dams.
"This is a shared river and the dam will bring devastation
to Laos' neighbours ... they should demand that Laos undergo the
consultation process," Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program
Director for International Rivers, said in an interview.
Officials from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam were not
immediately available for comment.
The three countries have repeatedly voiced concern about
Laos failing to honour a consultation agreement on a bigger
project, the $3.5 billion, 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam, for
which it held a groundbreaking ceremony late last year.
Thai builder Ch Karnchang PCL started construction
of that dam prior to conclusion of talks and studies. Laos long
maintained the building was only preparatory work.
Laos is one of Asia's poorest countries, but it has big
ambitions and wants to become the "Battery of Southeast Asia"
through power exports from its dams, mostly to Thailand.
The Don Sahong Dam, to be developed by Malaysia's Mega
First Corporation Bhd, is the second of 11 dams
planned by Laos along its stretch of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile)
Mekong. Construction is expected to begin next month at a site 2
km (1.2 miles) from the Cambodian border. It was unclear what
the financial cost of the dam would be.
Representatives from 10 of the MRC's international donors,
including the European Union, Japan and the United States, had
asked Laos to submit the project for consultation in June.
Hans Guttman, of the MRC secretariat, said Laos had
"indicated its willingness" to talk if its neighbours were
Commercial operation for Don Sahong is set to start in May
2018. Energy generated will be sold to Laos' national power
utility, Electricite du Laos, to supply domestic energy needs,
according to a statement by the MRC.
Activists believe the dam could cause flooding and threaten
food security in Cambodia and Vietnam.
"It's irresponsible to proceed without carrying out a
credible trans-boundary impact assessment. The Don Sahong Dam
will only push Cambodia and Vietnam closer to a flood crisis,"
said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum Cambodia.
(Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)