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.
Statement of the Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces
Listen to Downstream Communities Stop All Mekong Dams Implement Transboundary Impacts Studies
Mekong River is the mother of lives and the giver of local economies in 8 provinces of Thailand, from the Golden Triangle in Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai Province to Chiang Khan, Loei Province and Khong Chiam, Ubonratchatani Province. But the construction of hydropower dams in Yunnan, China—since the first dam and now a total of 6 completed dams out of the 15 planned projects—Mekong River has lost its nature to cascade hydropower dams and navigation of large cargo ships for the past 20 years and counting.
Today, the leaders of all Mekong countries gather together in China for the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation meeting—an initiative led by China. We, The Network of Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces who have been monitoring development projects in the Mekong River with Thai communities, call the Thai and the Mekong governments to:
Admit and immediately mitigate impacts caused by China’s totalitarian water management on the upper Mekong River/Lancang that have happened already for many years, especially transboundary impacts posed by hydropower projects and water release for Chinese large cargo ships navigation. These development projects fail to recognize local communities’ rights and unprecedented environmental impacts downstream.
Immediately find resolutions for existing transboundary impacts and mitigation measures for damages and losses caused by unseasonal abrupt water level fluctuations—including flooding due to dam discharge and dry water level and rapids blasting during the development of Mekong Navigation Project.
Stop and suspend all dam projects in the lower Mekong basin. These projects have ignored to respect participations of the Mekong people who dependent on the river to sustain their livelihoods and economies. Public participation must be implemented and enforced to prevent grave environmental and social impacts on downstream communities.
Create an accountable and participatory water management mechanism that foster inclusive public participation especially from riparian communities who are directly affected by the projects.
Mekong River is the Mother River of Southeast Asia. We have coexisted and relied on her since the ancestral time. We do not want anyone to take our Mother River away and use it simply for political interests.
The Network of Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces 23 March 2016
Awaiting governments to confirm their attendance at the Mekong People’s Forum next week.
5 November 2015 – On 25 September 2015, local people’s networks in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam released a joint statement entitled: “Mekong governments: Listen to the people! – Statement by local people on dams in the Mekong Region” (attached). The statement calls on the governments of the Mekong region to recognize the severe impacts of large-scale hydropower dams on the Mekong mainstream and tributaries within the Mekong basin and to listen to the concerns of local communities who would be affected by these projects.
“We request direct dialogue between the Mekong region’s governments and peoples’ representatives through public forums,” reads the statement. “We call on governments to come to a public forum which will be organized and attended by Mekong local peoples’ representatives; to listen and learn from us about the impacts of the dams.”
The original statement was signed by 15 local representatives from three countries plus 10 supporting organisations and one academic as an individual supporter. One month later, the statement has received recognition and support from more than 4,500 signatories. Among all those who signed, over 4,000 signatures and thumbprints come from the local people who live along the Mekong River and have directly experienced the changes in the Mekong River in recent years.
All the signatures, with the total to be counted early next week, will be presented to government ministers from all four lower Mekong countries; those who are directly responsible for decision-making over the future of the Mekong Basin. Invitations were sent, together with copies of the statement, to Ministers of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, to invite them to the Mekong People’s Public Forum, which will take place on 11 November at An Giang University, An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
The Regional Public Forum, “Local Mekong people’s voices: the message to Mekong governments on Mekong dams”(program attached), will be a gathering of nearly one hundred participants. Among them will be at least twenty representatives from local Mekong communities from Cambodia and Thailand. The majority of participants will be Vietnamese local communities, civil society groups and academic groups from Vietnam. This event is highly significant: it will be the first public forum of its kind, bringing together local people across the region to share their concerns over hydropower dams.
The Mekong local groups, however, until now are still waiting for the formal reply from the Mekong governments as to whether they are willing to join the historic Mekong People’s Forum.
“This forum belongs to us, the local Mekong people’s communities and citizens. I believe that the gathering will get bigger and bigger from now on. The problems from Mekong dams have been too severe for all of us, and without any real solution and understanding from Mekong governments, we the people will no longer able to protect our rivers from the aggressive encroachment of those dam builders. We will therefore continue to call until we have the government representatives really come, listen and admit their responsibility in protecting the Mekong basin, our livelihoods and the security of the region overall” states Mr. Channarong Wongla, from the local group Hug Chiang Khan in the Northeastern Mekong provinces in Thailand.
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.
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.
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.”
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.