ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
What next on the Mekong?
By David Swartzemtruber
The work stoppage could last from six months to a year depending how long it will take to complete another environmental impact assessment (EIA). The previous EIA commissioned by Laos was held by all parties to be incomplete and lacking in details, basically half-baked.
A call from the WWF environmental group follows the Mekong River Commission deferment of a decision on the dam amid mounting criticism from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, expert panels and environment and community groups of a lack of information on key potential dam impacts – which could affect the food supplies and livelihoods of millions.
“Putting it frankly, the key documentation prepared by consultants for the promoters of this dam has been nowhere near international standards and it reflects very poorly on the consultants involved,” said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF International Sustainable Hydropower Specialist.
A recent review of the Xayaburi Environment Impact Assessment coordinated by the World Fish Centre with participation from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WWF found that “the gaps and flaws of the assessment lead to the conclusion that the Xayaburi EIA does not meet the international standards for Environmental Impact Assessments”.
Where assessments usually covered impacts upstream, in the project zone and downstream, the Xayaburi EIA “does not cover the upstream catchment area, considers a third of the project zone and does not address impacts beyond two kilometres downstream of the dam”.
On fisheries, a key concern of WWF, the EIA ignored most studies and relied heavily on “a very light field sampling” that captured “less than a third” of the biodiversity in the impact area. Just five migratory species from a list compiled in 1994 were mentioned and just three of more than 28 studies of Mekong fish migration were referenced. In contrast, current studies show that 229 fish species exploit habitats upstream of the dam site for spawning or dry season refuges, with 70 classified as migratory.
In cautioning consultants to commit to current best practice, WWF cited the example of Swiss engineering company Colenco which played a key role in preparing the fish bypass proposals and the also heavily criticised Feasibility Study for Xayaburi dam.
"The standard of work done by Colenco for the Xayaburi proposal is highly unlikely to be acceptable practice in the company’s home country of Switzerland and is a poor fit with the company's stated ethic of environmental and social responsibility,” said Dr. Meng.
Most following the issue believe that any assessment must include possible impacts to countries and populations living downstream from the dam in Thailand, Cambodia and following through to the Mekong Delta, a key rice-producing area and food supply region in Vietnam.
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