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.

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 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).

China dams blamed for worsening S.E. Asia drought

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — As China opened one of its six dams on the upper Mekong River last month to help parched Southeast Asian countries down river cope with a record drought, it was hailed as benevolent water diplomacy.

But to critics of hydroelectric dams built on the Mekong over the concerns of governments and activists, it was the self-serving act of a country that, along with hydropower-exporting Laos, has helped worsen the region’s water and environmental problems.

Much of Southeast Asia is suffering its worst drought in 20 or more years. Tens of millions of people in the region are affected by the low level of the Mekong, a rice-bowl-sustaining river system that flows into Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Fresh water is running short for hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam and Cambodia, and reduced water for irrigation has hurt agriculture, particularly rice growing in Thailand, where land under cultivation is being cut significantly this year.

Vietnam estimates that 400,000 hectares have been affected by saltwater intrusion, with about 166,000 hectares rendered infertile. The affected land accounts for nearly 10 percent of the country’s paddy cultivation area in the Mekong Delta, its main rice-growing region.

The water level in the Tonle Sap River as it passes the royal palace in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, has fallen to a 50-year low.

Fingers are mainly pointed at the El Nino climate phenomenon, which produces drier and hotter-than-usual weather globally. But environmentalists and some officials say the situation is worsened by the 10 dams on the Mekong’s mainstream built over the past two decades, at least partly because they reduce rainy-season flooding and trap sediments, making the downstream delta more vulnerable to seawater intrusion.

“I’ve lost all my investment. My family was left with nothing,” said Thach Tai, a farmer from Ngoc Bien village in the southern Vietnamese province of Tra Vinh, as he surveyed his 2,000 square meters of dead, dry paddies.

The current El Nino is one of the strongest climate events in the past 60 years “that is not over yet,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, assistant director general at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It is the main factor in the drought, but “dams along the Mekong can and certainly do cause some problems,” she said.

Vietnam says the saltwater intrusion into its southern Mekong Delta is unprecedented. In mid-March, it asked China to double the amount of water discharged from its Jinghong dam in Yunnan Province. China agreed and the increased water flow is expected to continue until April 10.

Pham Tuan Phan, chief executive of the Mekong River Commission, a body set up to mediate the conflicting priorities of upstream and downstream Mekong countries, called the Chinese move a “gesture of goodwill.”

China was embarking on unprecedented water diplomacy, declared Thailand’s English-language Nation newspaper. China’s Foreign Ministry said the government had decided to “overcome its own difficulties to offer emergency water flows.”

The Chinese move was hailed as progress because it was the first time it had notified downstream countries of its plans for the Mekong’s water level. But it also underlined the power China holds over a shared life-sustaining resource and the Mekong environment overall.

Ma Quang Trung, a department director at Vietnam’s Agriculture Ministry, said discharges from the Jinghong dam might help reduce fresh water shortages for 575,000 Vietnamese, but are unlikely to ease the drought overall. Vietnam is so far downstream that only a small portion of the discharged water will reach it. He blames the drought on El Nino and Mekong dams.

Many more dams are planned for the Mekong, including by China and landlocked Laos, which with Chinese support sees hydropower exports becoming the mainstay of its economy, one of Asia’s least developed.

Piaporn Deetes, a campaigner in Thailand for Rivers International, an advocacy group, scoffs at the idea that the Jinghong discharge was a selfless act by China to help its neighbors. She said China gets benefits such as electricity generation, and the temporarily higher water level makes for easier navigation on its section of the river.

The discharge also had disastrous consequences that were inevitable because millions who live along the Mekong and depend on it for their livelihoods were unaware water levels would suddenly rise.

River bank vegetable gardens were submerged and boats and fishing equipment swept away, said Deetes. Harvests of kaipen, a freshwater weed exported to Japan that is a large source of income for river communities, were destroyed.

Statement on The Youth’s Dream for Future Mekong

We, The Mekong Youth Assembly, a network of young environmental advocate groups and individuals from six Mekong countries, get together beside the Mekong River today. We witness challenges and difficulties our fellow youth advocates are facing to protect the environment and our beloved communities. We seek for like-minded friends to join the journey of the following dreams to reality:

1. We dream that we are encouraged to express our opinions freely in all aspects of any given development project. Our movement to stand up for responsible development, justice, non-discrimination, peace and equality are protected by law.

2. We dream that our right to participation in any decision making toward the fate of our rivers, our communities and our future must be respected.

3. We dream that today’s adults, especially those in power, would bear in mind that “you do not inherit the Earth from ancestors, you borrow it from us, your children”. Make sure our mother earth shall be returned to us with prosperous life elements. In this regard, always respectfully consider our lives.

We will put all efforts to protect the Mekong River which unites us here today spiritually and physically. We will continue on this journey together until our dreams come true.

In solidarity,

Mekong Youth Assembly
31 March 2016

Public consultations for Don Sahong dam commence

The first regional public consultation on the Don Sahong hydropower project took place in Pakxe town of Champassak province on Friday to further the Mekong River Commission’s prior consultation process.

Don Sahong channel where the proposed 260-megawatt hydropower project in the south of Laos is planned.

The meeting served as a forum for experts from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to share their concerns and pose questions about the proposed 260-megawatt run-of-river project in the south of Laos.

The forum was also open to civil society, non-governmental organisations, research institutes and regional and international organisations.

The public consultation is part of the transparency process by which the Lao government can share information about the merits of the hydropower project with all interested parties in the four countries.

About 100 people attended the regional public consultation, which was organised by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

A site visit to Don Sahong was arranged on Thursday so the stakeholders could see the project for themselves and ask questions of the project staff, experts and the villagers who live near the site.

Lao Ministry of Energy and Mine’s Policy and Planning Department Director General Dr Daovong Phonekeo told Vientiane Times that “We have collected information about this project since 2007, notably the issues related to water flow, fish passage and water quality.

Surveys conducted by foreign experts enable us to explain to the participants that everything about the project has been done in a scientific manner.”

“We’re confident that at the end of the regional consultation, the participants will have more information and gain better understanding about the Don Sahong project. We hope that their concerns will be put to rest because we are being transparent and open with this information.”

This is the second time that the MRC has carried out the Prior Consultation process for a project along the Mekong River in Laos.

The first process conducted for the Xayaboury Hydropower Project in the north of Laos resulted in important improvements to that project, which is also a run-of-river scheme that requires no large reservoir.

Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat Mr Hans Guttman said: “As a result of the prior consultation for Xayaboury some recommendations from other member countries have been taken into account by Laos in the redesign of the Xayaboury project. But there were important lessons to be learnt.”

“… for the Don Sahong project, several national consultation/information sharing meetings have been organised by the respective National Mekong Committees and more are planned. In addition, we have the opportunity to carry out a public consultation at the regional level like today.”

The purpose of the Prior Consultation process is not to seek approval for a proposed project. Rather, it is a platform for Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, as notified countries, to raise issues of concern on potential effects the project may have on their territories, with technical review and analysis facilitated by the MRC Secretariat, he said.

In September 2013, the Lao government submitted the project proposal for Don Sahong Hydropower project under the notification process to the MRC Secretariat.

It (the government) later agreed to put the project under the prior consultation process in a move to allay concerns raised by its neighbours. The six-month prior consultation process will end on January 25, 2015.

The Lao PDR is committed to keeping alive the spirit of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which aims to promote comprehensive cooperation for sustainable development in the region.

Mekong Countries Voice Major Concerns Over Laos Dam

PAKSE, LAOS—A public consultation organized by the Mekong River Commission was held in Pakse, Laos, last week, where opponents continued to call for Laos to reconsider a controversial dam project.

Map of Mekong.
Map of Mekong.

Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation, a company tasked with building the Don Sahong dam, briefed regional participants on its social and environmental impacts, in the meeting on Friday.

But officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam remain skeptical of their findings of no significant impact or threat to fish population or migration.

The findings failed to address trans-boundary impacts, a main concern raised by environmentalists.

Cambodia, whose border is just two kilometers from the dam site, urged the commission to “educate” Mega First about the legal framework of such a controversial project and said there is no baseline data on the fish migrations or populations.

“For the sustainable development and preservation of the Mekong River Basin, we, the neighbors of the MRC, need a project that is beneficiary and does not affect other relevant states or that just has a minimal effect that is acceptable,” Kol Vathana, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said at the meeting.

Chaiyuth Sukhsri, a member of Thai National Mekong Committee, said Thailand is concerned about the dam site, which lies in a “special area.” “So we need a lot of information and require a lot of knowledge,” he said.

Vietnam, which has been voicing strong opposition to the project, urged the company to do more studies on the long-term impacts this may have on countries downstream.

“We need further monitoring time, like five or 10 years, to monitor how the fish migrate and how the channel is suitable, and that’s very important,” Nguyen Hong Phuong, deputy director-general of the Vietnamese National Mekong Committee, said. “We cannot have the premature conclusion that the channel is suitable for the fish to migrate.”

NGO representatives who were invited to the forum urged all governments to listen to concerns raised by their people, while Save the Mekong has called for a complete cancellation of the project. Environmental watchdog International Rivers issued a statement questioning the motives of the consultation forum, saying it would help legalize the project and allow it to go forward.

However, Mega First said it is still in negotiations with Laos and has not signed any agreement on the construction yet.

Lao officials, meanwhile, seem satisfied with the impact study.

In an interview with VOA Khmer, Daovong Phonekeo, director-general of Laos’ department of energy policy and planning, in the Ministry of Energy and Mines, said the country is aware of the concerns of its neighbors.

“But we have studied the project since 2006 and have a lot of data,” he said. “We’re very sure the mitigation measures we are going to do would have a minimal impact to the downstream and upstream countries.”

Activists slam Lao dam hearings

Civil society groups on Thursday criticised the Lao government over delays to public hearings for the controversial 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower dam.

The hearing, or “prior consultation meeting” will begin in Pakse today, more than four months after it was scheduled to get underway.

But activists said the exercise is likely to be fruitless and will serve only to justify the construction of the dam in Laos’ Champasak province.

Following pressure from groups concerned about the ecological impact of the dam, the Lao government agreed at a Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting in June to organise the hearing process over a period of six months, beginning on July 25.

“The Lao government has clearly stated they intend to proceed with the Don Sahong dam, in spite of the ongoing prior consultation process,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director for International Rivers (IR). “With this attitude, it is difficult to see how the process can be anything more than a rubber stamp.”

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have expressed concern about the potential trans-boundary impact of the dam. A Mekong agreement means the three countries are also required to consult people about the project.

Representatives of civil society and state officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam yesterday visited the dam site, where preparation for construction work began more than a year ago.

At the Second MRC summit in April, Cambodia and Vietnam called for the Don Sahong dam project to be delayed to allow for a trans-boundary impact assessment. The project has been criticised for lacking such a study.

Thai villagers living along Mekong basin have expressed fears the project may affect fish in the river.

“The prior consultation process for the Don Sahong dam has been set up to fail, visibly following the same pattern as the Xayaburi dam,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for IR.

The construction of the Xayaburi hydropower dam began in early 2012, before the government launched the prior consultation process for the 1,285-megawatt power generating facility.

The Thai Department of Water Resources has organised meetings on the Don Sahong project in five provinces. Meetings were held in Nakhon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani this week, but locals said no documents were distributed to them in advance.