Today, nobody can deny the contribution of the Mekong River to the livelihoods of more than 60 million people and the abundance of natural resources of its basin.
Based upon the 1995 Mekong Agreement, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam agreed to work together in order to "optimize the multiple-use and mutual benefits" of water resources and to "minimize the harmful effects that might result from natural occurrences and man-made activities"
To concretize the "mutual benefits", all development projects to be undertaken in the Mekong mainstream must be agreed by the riparian countries. While there are 11 planned dams in the Lower Mekong main stem, Xayaburi is the first one to be built. The project has stimulated controversial debate at all levels.
During the Friends of the Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting held in Phnom Penh on 13th July, to which MWD representatives were invited as observers, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, together with Foreign Ministers of Cambodia and Viet Nam, expressed concern over the Xayaburi dam and call for further comprehensive studies. The Foreign Minister of Japan expressed willingness to provide financial support to conduct this study. In respond to Friends' concerns, the Foreign Ministry of Lao PDR informed the meeting that the Xayaburi project will be on hold until there are sufficient studies. The Lao Government also prepared a visit to the Xayaburi site for relevant embassies, funding agencies and development partners to express the sincerity and openness Lao PDR has on this issue.
The trip to Xayaburi Hydropower Development Project Site was organised during 16-17 July. Before the trip took place on 17th July, all participants joined a presentation session, chaired by the Lao Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, during which information on the project was presented by Poyry and CNR. The biggest surprise to the invited participants was the contradictory message provided by the Deputy Minister that the Xayaburi Project will go on as planned. Any further study to be undertaken will be conducted and considered in parallel, and problems will be fixed along the way.
While the project has limited information on fish, biodiversity, livelihoods and other social aspects, at the site the Ch. Karnchang representative mentioned that there's a resettlement plan in place and the public hearing had already been done.
"Two years ago there were officers came to talk with us. They said some part of the village might be flooded. So people have to move. They said they prepared a new place for us to live but we don't know where or if we can live and farm there. Since then, we don't hear anything from them. We see a new road and lots of big trucks coming in and out", said Pon Intapanya from Tha Deau, a village near the Xayaburi dam site.
While the Governments of Cambodia and Viet Nam delivered a joint letter of concern to the Government of Lao PDR, there is as yet no official response. In Thailand, although PM Yingluck Chinawatra confirmed that this project should be halted, the Thai construction company Ch. Karnchang still keeps going with preparation work at the Xayaburi site. Groups of civil societyactors in Thailand have filed complaints in court against the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and three other state-owned agencies over the Xayaburi dam. Even if there is not yet a public protest on this project in Cambodia and Viet Nam, the concerns are similar.
"Xayaburi Hydropower Development Project is a big test for all lower Mekong countries and the Mekong River Commission (MRC). We hope there will be support for the proposal made by the US during the Friends of the Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting that we need to have the dialogue among partner countries, aid agencies, NGOs, and the multilateral development institutions. We need more information sharing, and more support for efforts to strengthen trans-boundary governance, with full participation of affected communities, accountability and transparency", said Robert Mather, Head of IUCN Southeast Asia Group and Mekong Water Dialogues Project Manager.
Mekong Water Dialogues aims to improve water governance by facilitating transparent and inclusive decision-making for improved livelihood security, human and ecosystem health. It was initiated to work with countries of the Lower Mekong - Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. It is coordinated and facilitated by IUCN and supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
Relevant information on Xayaburi project
• Department of Energy Promotion and Development, Ministry of Energy and Mines, Lao PDR
• Xayaburi Power Company Limited
• Lower Mekong Initiative
• Joint Statement of the Second Friends of the Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting on 13 July 2012, Phnom Penh
By Dararat Weerapong