Government, NGOs Call for Halt on Dam Project

Representatives of the government and local NGOs drafted a petition Thursday asking for an immediate stop to the Don Sahong dam project, which is planned to be built 1.5 km from the Lao-Cambodian border and threatens the livelihoods of millions of people living along the Mekong River.

The petition, signed by 90 participants of a workshop hosted by the NGO Forum, said that more detailed studies on the social and environmental impact the 250MW dam were needed if the construction was to go ahead.

“Laos should conduct extended research on the impacts because the lives of people downstream will be affected,” Tea Chup, deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said at the workshop, adding that the petition would be submitted to the heads of states of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

The Don Sahong dam will be built on the Hou Sahong channel, the only channel of the Mekong that allows for year-round fish migration, according to environmental groups.

The Malaysian company in charge of the construction, MegaFirst Berhad, has said that the impact on fisheries would be mitigated by tricking migratory fish into using nearby channels that would be altered to mimic the Hou Sahong.

It is unclear whether fish would actually change their migratory routes.

“Our stance is to ask Laos to conduct a detailed study of the three channels that fish could use to migrate,” to be sure if impact on fisheries can be sufficiently mitigated before construction begins, said Tek Vanara, executive director of the NGO Forum.

Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, signed by Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, all river-use projects to be built on the mainstream Mekong have to undergo a prior consultation process, which allows countries to veto projects.

Laos has argued that the Don Sahong dam did not have to be submitted for prior consultation as it would not block the entire Mekong.

“Three countries [Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam] are saying the dam is on the mainstream, and only [Laos] says it isn’t…. They just don’t want the prior consultation process,” Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said Thursday.

Early next month, the Mekong River Commission, the inter-governmental body set up to help decision-making on the Mekong, will meet in Vietnam to discuss the Don Sahong.

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