ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
All eyes on Mekong meeting in Cambodia
By David Swartzentruber
Representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, today to discuss Laos’ Xayaburi hydropower dam proposal, the first of 12 proposed dams for the lower Mekong River, with a decision slated for April 22.
The four countries signed an agreement in 1995 to cooperate on managing the river, and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) was established to implement the agreement. The MRC, however, functions only as an advisory body and cannot make binding decisions on its members.
Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC, said the decision is “one of the biggest tests of the agreement in 15 years”. A study commissioned by the MRC recommended in September that the countries delay decisions on whether to build dams on the lower Mekong for 10 years, predicting they would have devastating and irreversible impacts on the river’s ecology. Vietnam has publicly opposed the dam, while Cambodian officials have expressed the need for further information.
Meanwhile, many NGOs have called on Laos and Thailand to halt the project, issuing sharp criticisms of the environmental impact assessment conducted for the lead Thai company, which did not consider the dam’s impact beyond 10 kilometres.
Jeremy Bird will give up his tenure at the MRC on Monday after three years at the helm. Cambodian Pich Dun will take over on an interim basis. The meeting comes as an earthquake measuring 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Service rattled out of Myanmar into Thailand and Laos. A few weeks back another, smaller earthquake was centered in Xayaburi province just a few kilometers from the site of the proposed dam.
With Thai financial institutions backing the dam and a Thai company ready to build the dam, it will be on interest to see if the recent Japanese earthquake will raise security fears about the construction of the dam in a known earthquake zone.
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