Officials Criticize Laos Over Don Sahong Dam

A day after the Cambodia National Mekong Committee (CNMC) received impact assessment documents from Laos for their controversial Don Sahong dam, Cambodian and Vietnamese officials criticized Laos’ lack of transparency on the mainstream Mekong dam.

Earlier this month, Laos notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC)—an intergovernmental body responsible for the management of the Lower Mekong basin—that work on the 240-MW Don Sahong dam will begin next month and will be completed by February 2018.

Located less than 1 km from the Lao-Cambodian border, the 240-MW dam could lead to the extinction of the Irrawaddy Dolphin and the Giant Mekong Catfish, as well as block the migratory passages of the river’s robust fisheries, environmentalists say.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the CNMC, said Cambodia received all the relevant documents concerning the Don Sahong dam on Wednesday.

“These documents include the environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment, engineering documents, drawing reports and impact reports on fisheries,” he said, adding that the CNMC will send copies to relevant ministries, including Environment, Agriculture and Water Resources.

“We need to review all the documents and we will ask these related ministries to give feedback, comments and concerns about the dam construction,” Mr. Navuth said.

Former Environment Minister Mok Mareth, who currently chairs the National Assembly’s Third Commission on Environment and Water Re­sources, said the government is very concerned with the lack of transparency Laos has shown in hand­ling the Don Sahong dam and the Xayaburi dam—which began construction in November amidst criticism from neighboring countries.

“[M]itigation of all [environmental impact] to social impact and their transparency is our main concerns,” Mr. Mareth said in a text message, adding that past requests for Laos to send documents about the Don Sahong dam has gone ignored.

“[The Ministry of Environment] never got those reports, [which is] why we had great concerns.”

Echoing these concerns, Tran Van Thong, Vietnamese Embassy spokesman, said Laos should have provided these impact assessment documents before announcing that construction was going to move forward. He also stressed the need for an emergency meeting between all MRC members.

“It is a most urgent thing that needs discussion with all members in the MRC to reach an agreement before construction breaks ground,” Mr. Van Thong said.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for environmental group International Rivers, said the Xayaburi dam set a “dangerous precedent” for dam projects on the Mekong River as it was done without the explicit approval from neighboring countries.

“As the Don Sahong appears to be following a similar path, the MRC is clearly at a crisis point,” Ms. Trandem said.

“Unless the MRC urgently addresses the problems that have arisen with the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, it will lose the little credibility it has remaining.”

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