Press Release: Prior Consultation for Pak Beng Dam Must be Extended

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, June 16, 2017

 

On Monday 19 June, the Joint Committee of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) will meet for a special session to discuss the Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng Dam, and the positions of MRC member countries as expressed in their formal reply forms. The meeting marks the end of the first 6 months of the Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng project.

There are significant outstanding concerns regarding the quality of studies and information relied on during the Prior Consultation to assess and understand the project’s environmental and social impacts on the Mekong River. This includes the project’s transboundary impacts in Thailand and other neighboring countries, and its cumulative impacts with other existing and proposed hydropower projects in the Mekong basin. There are further concerns over the quality of national consultations conducted and public participation in the Prior Consultation process.

More time is needed, within the Prior Consultation, for further baseline studies to be conducted by the developer, and further information provided to member countries with which to meaningfully evaluate the expected impacts of the Pak Beng Dam. Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement and the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), it is within the purview of the Joint Committee to extend the time period for Prior Consultation. It is also the responsibility of the Joint Committee to respond to concerns that arise within the Prior Consultation process.

The MRC’s draft Technical Review of the Pak Beng Dam’s project documents, including the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and project documents found significant gaps in data provided on fisheries, hydrology and sediment, and concluded that the transboundary impacts of project had not been fully assessed. An independent expert review of the Pak Beng Dam EIA, commissioned by International Rivers, also concluded that the information provided by the developer was insufficient to evaluate the full extent of the impacts and consequently the viability of proposed impact mitigation measures. Analysis of the Transboundary and Cumulative Impact Assessment found an absence of meaningful public participation in preparation of the study and no consultation with communities who would be affected by the project.

At a national level, civil society and local communities have raised strong concerns regarding the limitations of consultation meetings held in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. These meetings have been characterized by a lack of representation, in particular from affected communities, as well as limitations in project information presented and the scope of discussion. The project developer did not attend consultation meetings at a national level and therefore were not able to respond to the questions of participants. In Thailand, concern over the transboundary impacts of the Pak Beng Dam, and the weakness of national level consultation and information sharing has prompted a lawsuit filed by Thai Mekong communities in Thailand’s Administrative Court against the Thai National Mekong Committee.

Communities in Thailand are extremely concerned about the transboundary impacts of the Pak Beng Dam. Given the location of the project close to the border to Thailand, there is an urgent need for adequate assessment of the dam’s transboundary impacts. Furthermore, decision-making must include participation of local communities whose livelihoods and food sources will be affected as a result of the Pak Beng Dam. This includes communities throughout the lower Mekong River Basin whose way of life depends on the Mekong River and is at risk due to dam construction.

The MRC Secretariat has framed the Prior Consultation as focused on steps to mitigate and minimize harm resulting from the Pak Beng Dam. However, without sufficient baseline data and adequate impact assessments, it is not possible to develop viable and context specific mitigation measures, especially in an ecosystem as complex as that of the Mekong River. With both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams, construction commenced in the absence of necessary baseline studies. As the projects have advanced, very little information has been made publicly available about the progress of ongoing studies and impact monitoring.

The Pak Beng Dam must not follow the same path as the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. Mekong governments must push for adequate project studies to be conducted before a decision is made to proceed with the dam and before project agreements are signed and construction begins.

The timeframe for the Prior Consultation process for the Pak Beng Dam must be extended to allow for updated studies to be evaluated by MRC member countries. This should include consideration of the final findings of the MRC Council Study, which will be completed in December 2017. There is an urgent need for shared, regional decision-making that is based on quality scientific studies and on a broader awareness and understanding of transboundary and cumulative impacts of dams on the Mekong River mainstream.


Media Contacts:

Teerapong Pomun, Director, Mekong Community Institute,
E: teary88@hotmail.com, T: +66 814477969
TEK Vannara, Executive Director, NGO Forum on Cambodia,
E: vannara@ngoforum.org.kh, T: 85523214429
Trinh Le Nguyen, Executive Director, People and Nature Reconciliation,
E: nguyen@nature.org.vn, T: 84435564001
Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia Program Director, International Rivers,
E: mharris@internationalrivers.or g, T: +66 618902602


Please read the Vietnamese version here

 

Thai Villagers File Lawsuit on Pak Beng Dam

On Thursday, June 8, 2017 the Thai Network of Eight Mekong Provinces filed a lawsuit against relevant Thai government agencies for their involvement in the Pak Beng Dam on the Mekong River, and the expected transboundary impacts on communities in Thailand.

The Pak Beng Dam is the third dam planned for construction on the lower Mekong River mainstream (following the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams). The dam will be located in Oudomxay Province, Northern Laos, blocking the river about 92 kilometers downstream from Thailand in Wiang Kaen District, Chiang Rai Province. China’s Datang Corporation is developing the 912 MW project. Approximately 90% of the electricity is planned for sale to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), for export to Thailand.

The Pak Beng Dam is currently undergoing Prior Consultation in accordance with the Procedures for Prior Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement set out under the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The initial 6-month Prior Consultation period will conclude on June 19th. As part of the Prior Consultation process, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) conducted a Technical Review of the environmental and social impacts studies for the Pak Beng Dam. The review focused on a number of critical issues including, hydrology, sediment, fisheries, dam safety, navigation, and social and transboundary impacts. The MRC’s Technical Review team found significant shortcomings in the reports submitted to the MRC in November 2016. There was very limited information provided in particular regarding fish species that would be impacted by the dam. Data collection was extremely limited, fish sampling was carried out over a few days at six stations in 2011, in the dry and rainy season. Experts conclude that the proposed fish passage, designed to mitigate the impacts of the Pak Beng Dam on fish migration is unlikely to be effective. Furthermore, reviewers found that studies of the Pak Beng’s transboundary impacts were inadequate, especially in relation to the expected impacts in Thailand.

Thailand has held four meetings regarding the Pak Beng Dam, as part of the Prior Consultation process, and at each meeting Thai people expressed significant concerns about the transboundary impacts of the dam, both upstream and downstream. Given the inter-connected nature of the Mekong River, if the water level in the river rises by only 50cm-1m, there will be impacts. Villagers in Thailand are particularly worried about flooding, as a result of the dam’s reservoir. Information shared at the Pak Beng forums in Thailand was very limited, and so people have been left with many questions regarding the impacts of the project. Today when dams upstream in China release water during the dry season, it causes flooding downstream. If the Pak Beng Dam is built, villagers in Chiang Rai will be living in between two dams.

The lawsuit is the second case filed against Thai government agencies regarding cross-border impacts from projects outside of Thailand, and which deals with transboundary environmental and social impacts of hydropower projects on the Mekong River. The lawsuit calls for the Thai agencies named to protect the rights and freedoms of people living in Thailand.

Please read vietnamese version here.

Prior Consultation for Pak Beng Dam Must be Delayed

Public Statement by the Save the Mekong Coalition

Prior Consultation for Pak Beng Dam Must be Delayed to Allow for Completion of Council Study and Consideration of Basin-wide Impacts

 

The Save the Mekong Coalition includes members from across the Mekong River Basin. Our work is grounded in the understanding that the Mekong is a shared river, whose life-sustaining resources support millions of people throughout Southeast Asia and substantially contribute to the social and economic well being of the region. The Save the Mekong Coalition and its members have monitored the decision-making processes for Lower Mekong mainstream dams, including participation in national and regional Prior Consultation meetings for the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. Our experience has led to growing concern over the future of the Mekong River and her people.

Decision-making on the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams revealed a breakdown of regional cooperation among Lower Mekong countries and failure of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to provide a meaningful platform for informed and participatory consultations.

The documented “lessons learned” from implementation of the Prior Consultation for Xayaburi and Don Sahong emphasize the inadequacy of the project documents and studies submitted, and the limited time and space for meaningful public participation, particularly of affected communities [1]. Both processes were characterized by a lack of agreement between Lower Mekong governments. Decisions to move forward with construction disregarded concerns raised by neighboring countries over transboundary impacts, requests for further studies, and opposition from local communities directly and indirectly affected by the projects. For example, the Xayaburi Dam is more than 70% complete, however re-design documents have not been made public, despite repeated requests from MRC Development Partners and the public, limiting the means to independently verify the effectiveness of impact mitigation measures.[2]

To date, the transboundary and cumulative impacts of dams in the Mekong Basin have been largely ignored in decision-making, setting a dangerous precedent as new dams are put forward for review. The Prior Consultation process for the Xayaburi Dam leapfrogged the publication of the MRC-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which evaluated the risks and benefits of planned hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream. The SEA predicted profound basin-wide impacts if all proposed dams are built and recommended a ten-year moratorium on dam-building on the Lower Mekong mainstream to allow for further study. According to the MRC CEO at the time, the SEA was intended to “support the consultation process for individual mainstream hydropower projects […] before a decision is made whether or not to go ahead and, if so, under what circumstances.”[3]

The findings and recommendations of the SEA were overlooked in decision-making over both the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. We are extremely concerned that decision-making on the Pak Beng Dam – currently undergoing Prior Consultation – is set to follow the same pattern.

At the 3rd Mekong-Japan Summit in 2011, Mekong leaders agreed that further study on the development and management of the Mekong River, including on the impacts of mainstream hydropower projects, was essential. As a result, MRC Council Members initiated the Council Study in December 2011. According to the MRC, the Council Study aims to “close important knowledge gaps on how different water resources developments including mainstream hydropower will impact the river basin environmentally, economically and socially.”[4]

The Council Study has received significant financial support from international donors to the MRC. While the study has faced considerable delays, it is now scheduled for completion by the end of 2017. The study is important in providing a basin-wide perspective on the impact of major water use sectors on key areas of the Mekong River Basin.[5] As the Council Study enters its final phase, it is imperative that the study prioritizes participation of Mekong communities and CSOs through meaningful consultation and that the findings are shared in a timely and transparent manner. Completion of the Council Study provides an important opportunity for Mekong governments to ensure informed decisions on hydropower development in the Mekong Basin.

Decisions over projects that will impact the river must be shared by all countries and informed by basin-wide studies. Mekong leaders, the MRC and donor governments have the opportunity to utilize the Council Study to enable more informed and balanced decision-making over the development of hydropower on the Mekong River.

We call on Lower Mekong governments to, at a minimum:

  • Postpone decision-making on the Pak Beng Dam and extend the Prior Consultation Process until the Council Study is finalized;
  • Prioritize participation and consultation in the final stages of the Council Study; and to
  • Ensure that the study’s findings on the cumulative impacts of hydropower projects – existing, planned and under construction – inform decision-making on the Pak Beng Dam along with future projects proposed on the Mekong River.

Save the Mekong Coalition
May 2, 2017


[1] Dialogue Workshop on Lessons Learnt from the Implementation of the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA)
[2] No information regarding resolution to the Prior Consultation process for the Don Sahong Dam has been publicly released. Furthermore since construction on the Don Sahong Dam began there has been limited information shared publicly regarding new studies or updates to existing studies requested by neighboring governments through the Prior Consultation process.
[3]  http://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/results-of-strategic-environmental-assessment-of-hydropower-on-the-mekong-mainstream-released/
[4] http://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/events/member-countries-agree-on-next-steps-for-council-study-on-sustainable-development-of-the-mekong-river-basin/
[5] MRC Council Study, Concept note: http://www.mrcmekong.org/assets/Publications/Council-Study/Concept-Note-for-Council-Study-final-15012013.pdf


Thai, Lao, Khmer and Vietnamese versions (to be updated)

 

Chiang Khong Declaration on International Day of Action for Rivers 2017

Chiang Khong Declaration, March 14, 2017

On 14 March 2017, the International Day of Action for Rivers, we, the Save the Mekong Coalition along with civil society and community partners from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, make this statement to express our gratitude to the Mekong River and the way of life she supports. The Mekong is our mother river, home to unique biodiversity and a lifeline for millions of people throughout the river basin. We recognize the efforts of Mekong communities who are working to protect and preserve the unique ecosystems and resources of the river for future generations.

We are extremely concerned by large-scale developments, which ignore knowledge, cultures, and voices of the women and men in the Mekong Basin whose lives and beliefs are inherently intertwined with the Mekong River. Planning and decision-making over hydropower and other developments on the Mekong River have lacked public participation, transparency and accountability.

Rivers are essential in sustaininghuman existence globally, and yet, everywhere, freshwater systems are being destroyed and degraded. With climate change and increasing water scarcity, it is more important than ever to protect these vital resources and the biodiversity, natural systems and way of life they support.

On this day around the world hundreds of communities are joining together to take action for their rivers. We stand in solidarity with communities along the Mekong River. We re-affirm our commitment to work together across the basin, prioritizing the voices of Mekong communities in decision-making over the future of the Mekong River for current and future generations.

Declaration in Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese versions.


Some pictures from the International Day of Action for Rivers event on the Mekong River:

People from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos gathered in the International Day of Action for Rivers event on the Mekong River

 

Young man in Thailand read the Declaration

 

Flags with love and wishes for the Mekong to be released on bamboo boots.
Photo Credit: PanNature

Statement of the Save the Mekong Coalition for the 23rd MRC Council Meeting

On the occasion of the 23rd Meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Council, the Save the Mekong Coalition has issued a Statement to express our serious concern over the ongoing development of hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream, despite unresolved issues over transboundary and cumulative impacts of projects already under construction and a breakdown in shared regional decision-making. We are further concerned about the status of the MRC Council Study, intended to inform decisions regarding development on the Mekong River, and request information on the status of the study, as well as of the review of the 1995 Mekong Agreement’s Procedures by the MRC’s Joint Platform.

The decision-making processes for the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, now under construction on the Mekong mainstream in Lao PDR, ignited significant controversy within the Mekong region and internationally. Requests for information and concerns over project impacts expressed during the Prior Consultation procedures were not formally addressed, including calls for extension of the consultation period, thorough baseline information, and studies of transboundary impacts. Both projects proceeded despite the absence of agreement or resolution of concerns within the MRC’s Joint Committee and Council.

 

The Mekong River is a vital shared resource for the region. There is an urgent need for change in the decision-making processes that are informing hydropower development in the Mekong Basin to ensure a sustainable future for the river and her people.

We call on the Mekong governments and the Mekong River Commission to:

  • Prioritize participation and consultation on the Council Study, expedite completion of the Council Study and disseminate ongoing results to the public, ensuring that these findings and those of the Mekong Delta Study inform further decision affecting the future of the river;
  • Prioritize organizational reform, including an assessment of the future of the MRC and the 1995 Agreement, with participation by the public and Mekong communities. The Mekong Agreement and procedures must be transparently reviewed and adapted in accordance with regional processes and developments in international law.
  • Halt further decision-making over Mekong mainstream dams, until such a time as decisions can be informed by and based upon meaningful consultation, particularly with local project-affected communities, and sound basin-wide studies which consider the transboundary and cumulative impacts of mainstream dams.

Vietnamese version of the Statement

Open Letter from Save the Mekong Coalition to the developers of the Don Sahong Dam

The Save the Mekong Coalition has issued an Open Letter to the developers of the Don Sahong Dam to express our serious and ongoing concerns over the development of the project.

For a project with a relatively low generating capacity, due to its location in an area critical to Mekong fish migration, the potential impacts of the Don Sahong Dam on regional fisheries are severe. The food security of thousands of people in the Mekong Basin is dependent on many of the migratory fish species which have traditionally passed through the Hou Sahong channel. Inadequate information has been made available to date regarding the scale and scope of the project’s impacts and the monitoring efforts that are informing the project’s ‘adaptive and flexible approach’ to impact mitigation.

Furthermore, we are concerned that the developer is considering not implementing all the mitigation measures outlined in the project’s 2013 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Although the developers have stated that extensive fish monitoring will be undertaken, limited information has been made available regarding baseline data and the ongoing monitoring of fish species and their migration patterns. Recent studies on the company website do not include reports detailing monitoring data and analysis since project construction commenced in January.

People potentially affected by the project currently have little means to seek accountability. This includes transparency over the project’s impacts and guarantees that the full range of measures available will be implemented to mitigate adverse impacts on fish migration and the threats to local communities and regional food security.

We therefore call on the project developers to:

  • Confirm that all necessary measures, including screen and bypass systems to divert fish from entering the Hou Sahong channel and turbines, are being implemented to ensure mitigation of the project impacts is as effective as possible;
  • Release details of the fish screen and bypass system design and information as to how the measures will be developed to cater for fish species in the area;
  • Release the results of ongoing fisheries monitoring studies that show how fish migration behaviour is adapting to project construction;
  • Halt construction of the project until comprehensive information regarding the project’s environmental and social impacts and addressing the concerns raised by Mekong governments has been made publicly available.

The open letter in Vietnamese.


For more information please contact Maureen Harris at International Rivers: mharris@internationalrivers.org.

 

Open Letter from Save the Mekong Coalition to MRC Development Partners

In advance of the Mekong River Commission’s Informal Donor Meeting this week, the Save the Mekong Coalition writes the open letter to express serious and ongoing concern over the outstanding issues and questions surrounding hydropower dam construction on the mainstream of the Mekong River.

The Coalition calls on Mekong River Commission developments partners to:

  • Renew their calls to the MRC to effect the release of the current designs for the Xayaburi dam and clarification of the status of the Prior Consultation process for the Don Sahong Dam;
  • Require reform of the MRC’s procedures before any further project is commenced, including requirements for comprehensive assessments and release of information, meaningful public participation and the transparent resolution of disputes;
  • Reconsider their support to the MRC if it remains unable to fulfil the purpose of ensuring adherence to the spirit and principles of the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

The Open Letter: EnglishThai versions, and Vietnamese news on the letter (updated).