Statement to the Lower Mekong Governments On the occasion of the 24th Mekong River Commission Council Meeting

To: Mekong River Commission Council and Secretariat

H.E. Mr. Lim Kean Hor
Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology
Chairperson of Cambodia National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Council for Cambodia

General Surasak Karnjanarat
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
Chairperson of Thai National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Council for Thailand

H.E. Mr. Sommad Pholsena
Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
Chairperson of Lao National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Council for the Lao PDR
Chairperson of the MRC Council for 2016

H.E. Dr. Tran Hong Ha
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
Chairperson of Viet Nam National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Council for Viet Nam

Mr. Pham Tuan Phan
Chief Executive Officer,
Mekong River Commission Secretariat
Office of the Secretariat in Vientiane (OSV)
Fax: +856 21 263 264

On the occasion of the Mekong River Commission’s 24th Council Meeting, the Save the Mekong Coalition writes to express our serious concern over the ongoing development of hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstream and within the basin, despite evidence that these projects are undermining regional food security and deepening poverty.

Over 60 million people depend on the health of the Mekong River and its tributaries for food, water, transport and many other aspects of their daily lives. Rapidly declining costs now place renewables such as wind and solar close to par on price with hydropower, with far fewer environmental and social impacts. Emerging technological advances in distribution and storage mean that renewables such as solar and wind are an increasingly feasible way to meet energy needs, and better able to ensure electricity access for populations who currently lack this access. Nevertheless, vested interests within the public and private sectors remain a strong driving force behind continued dam construction.

The 24th Council Meeting is an opportunity for the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to prove true to its vision to promote an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin.[1] We urge the Lower Mekong Governments to commit to a moratorium on dam building while regional policies and infrastructure to support renewable alternatives are put in place.

Mekong dams jeopardize sustainable development
Numerous scientific studies have shown that the series of eleven large-scale hydropower dam projects currently proposed and under construction on the Mekong mainstream threaten the region’s fisheries, and consequently the food supply of millions. If built, these dams would block the major fish migrations that are essential to the life cycle of around 70% of the Mekong River’s commercial fish catch. This would result in a total estimated fishery loss of 26 to 42%[2], placing at risk the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Food security is a fundamental foundation on which other important forms of development are built. Wild-capture fisheries are a vital source of nutrients to rural families throughout the Mekong region. As such, protection of wild-capture fisheries should be central to poverty-reduction efforts. Any reduction of fish catch will increase the incidence of malnutrition that is already a serious problem in the Mekong region, further deepening poverty. In addition to providing the region’s main source of protein, the Mekong’s waters are essential for household use and maintaining agricultural productivity across the basin, supporting the cultivation of rice and other products. .

The Mekong supplies people in the region with up to 80% of their animal protein needs. A 2013 report published by Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI) of the Fisheries Administration in Cambodia shows that the combined effects of mainstream dams in Cambodia and population growth could reduce the country’s consumption of fish from 49kg to as little as 22kg per person per year by 2030, amounting to a 55% reduction. This would have a profound impact on child nutrition in Cambodia, where nearly 40% of Cambodian children under five are chronically malnourished, over 28% are underweight and 10.9% are acutely malnourished.[3] Fish and fish products are critical sources of iron. In Cambodia, an estimated 70% of pregnant women and 74% of children under the age of five suffer from iron deficiencies[4]. Iron shortages rob people of energy, ultimately perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Malnutrition rates in the Lao PDR are likewise among the highest in the region. 40-60% of Lao children are stunted.[5] In Lao provinces bordering the Mekong, including the sites of the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, fish and aquatic products contribute between 27 and 78% of animal protein intake in people’s diets, and provide an essential source of micronutrients.[6] As noted in UNDP’s 2012 Country Analysis Report for the Lao PDR, unregulated development in mining and hydropower, as well as in commercial agriculture, “degrade beyond recovery the rich ecosystem, upon which the vast majority of the rural population so depend for fuel, food and fiber.”[7]

Farmers and fishers downstream in Vietnam likewise face declining yields as a result of mainstream Mekong dams, putting at risk Mekong Delta food exports worth $10 billion annually. The Mekong Delta, which produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice and feeds over 145 million people in Asia, will be severely affected as dams alter flow regimes and prevent vital sediment from reaching the area.[8]

Consultation and decision-making remains flawed
The MRC has thus far failed in its mission to ensure the mutually beneficial development of the Mekong River while minimising potentially harmful effects on the people and the environment.[9] Scientific studies have been disregarded in the rush to push forward environmentally and socially destructive dam projects, placing at risk the food security of the region’s most vulnerable citizens. Decision-making processes are opaque and non-participatory and consultation with affected communities remains absent. The MRC must reform its procedures to strengthen processes and opportunities for stakeholder engagement and public participation in decision-making, especially the participation of riparian communities.

Planning and decision-making for the development of hydropower projects on the lower Mekong River mainstream has to-date taken place on a project-by-project basis. The problems caused by this piecemeal approach are compounded by the absence of adequate baseline data, transboundary or cumulative impact assessments for mainstream projects already under construction, and no comprehensive plans for long-term monitoring of project and basin-wide impacts. The Prior Consultation process has been characterized by weak scientific analysis, and a lack of due regard to the legitimate concerns of local people, who stand to lose the most from damage to the river’s resources. These problems have persisted through the Xayaburi, Don Sahong, and Pak Beng Dam planning, approval and Prior Consultation processes.

In early November or 2017, Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court admitted for consideration an appeal in the lawsuit regarding harms caused by the Pak Beng Dam. The court’s acceptance of the case is an acknowledgement of Thai governmental agencies’ responsibility under Thai law and the 1995 Mekong Agreement to inform and consult with its citizens on the cross-border impacts of projects such as the Pak Beng Dam. The decision signifies a growing regional trend in favour of public participation, accountability and transparency in the planning, development and approval of large infrastructure projects.

Alternatives to Mekong dams are available
Governments have justified the mainstream Mekong dams as necessary to meet growing energy demands in the region. In fact, the 11 mainstream projects would only provide about 8% of forecast Lower Mekong Basin power demand.[10]  If the mainstream projects are not pursued, there would be minimal risk for electricity security in the Lower Mekong Basin countries and the forecast electricity demand could be supplied by alternative energy sources such as solar and biomass and improved energy efficiency.[11]

Alternatives already exist to meet this demand in a more responsible and sustainable way. In the coming years, new GMS hydropower projects will be competing with ever-cheaper options, including more competitive natural gas prices as well as increasingly affordable and efficient solar and wind technologies. Prices for non-hydropower renewables are falling at a rate far faster than anticipated. Between 2015-2016 alone, the global average price of solar dropped 13% and wind dropped 10.75%.[12] Rapidly declining costs now place solar close to par on price with hydropower, with fewer environmental or social impacts. There are also significant opportunities for accessing support for wind and solar power development through climate finance assistance to developing countries.

The 24th Council Meeting is an opportunity for the MRC and Lower Mekong Governments to provide the leadership and vision to drive a future that is sustainable and prioritizes preservation of the region’s rich fisheries and other riverine resources. Rather than continuing to support environmentally and socially destructive dam projects, the MRC should recognize the potential of innovative renewable and decentralized electricity technologies that are now readily available and cost-competitive.

We urge the Lower Mekong Governments to commit to a moratorium on large-scale hydropower projects while regional policies and infrastructure to support renewables are put in place. Doing so would help ensure truly sustainable growth for the region without losing the benefits that healthy rivers bring.


Save the Mekong Coalition
28 November 2017


[2] See SEA of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream at

[3] See World Food Programme website at

[4] Roos et. al. (2007). Iron content in common Cambodian fish species: Perspectives for dietary iron

intake in poor, rural households. Food Chemistry 104 (3): 1226-1235.


[6] Baran, E., Jantunen T., and Chong C.K. 2007. Values of inland fisheries in the Mekong River Basin. WorldFish Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 58 pp.

[7] UNDP 2012. Country Analysis Report: Lao PDR. Vientiane, Lao PDR: United Nations.



[10] Intelligent Energy Systems Pty Ltd (IES) and Mekong Economics (MKE) (2016). Alternatives for Power Generation in the Greater Mekong Subregion: Volume 1 Power Sector Vision for the Greater Mekong Subregion, World Wild Fund for Nature.



The English and Vietnamese versions can be downloaded 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

Dam Locations and Status

The Mekong River is under threat. The governments of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are planning eleven big hydropower dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream. If built, the dams would block major fish migrations and disrupt this vitally important river, placing at risk millions of people who depend upon the Mekong for their food security and income.


List of mainstream dams

[to be updated]

Reports, Briefings and Websites