No Decision Made on Laos’ Mekong Dam at MRC Meeting

Mekong River Commission mem­bers Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand agreed Friday to hold a special meeting next month on whether to approve Laos’ plan to build a hydropower dam on the Mekong river, the MRC said.

The MRC’s Joint Committee met in Sihanoukville on Friday, but failed to reach a decision on the 1,260-mega­watt Xayaburi project ahead of an April 22 deadline.

“The JC members […] agree to hold a special Joint Committee meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR, to come to a conclusion on the project” on April 21, the statement said.

Under the 1995 Mekong Agree­ment, MRC countries must jointly agree on development on the mainstream Mekong. Friday’s meeting followed an international campaign urging the MRC to halt the project.

Hundreds of NGOs support an MRC study released in November that recommended a 10-year wait before developing any of the 11 planned Mekong dams, as these would devastate fisheries and affect millions of fishermen.

Cambodian National Mekong Com­mittee deputy secretary-general Watt Botkosal said he had not attended the meeting but explained that it was likely the committee had only been able to agree on holding another meeting.

“Maybe they cannot decide now,” he said, adding that Cam­bodia feels much information on the downstream impact of the dam is still lacking.

Cambodia has not been openly opposed to the dam. Vietnam has been vocal in its opposition, while Thailand—which would invest in the $3.5 billion dam and buy its electricity—has reportedly not objected to it.

“There is…no certainty that fish-passage facilities will be sufficiently effective, and therefore provision of other compensation measures will be required on a trans-boundary scale to substitute for loss of fisheries-based livelihoods,” the study said.

Ame Trandem, Mekong coordinator for International Rivers, said the review’s findings showed why the dam should not be approved.

“[I]t’s quite clear from the significant array of knowledge gaps that re­main that […] the project should be cancelled at this point in time.”

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