ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Final meeting on controversial Lao dam is April 21
By David Swartzentruber
The results of last weekend’s meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the Xayaburi dam are that the representatives of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will make a final decision on the project on April 21 in Ventiane. The following day, April 22, is the deadline for a decision to be made.
It would appear that the four countries are divided into two or three camps.
Supporting the project are Laos and Thailand. Laos supports the dam as the landlocked country wishes to become the “energy battery” for the Greater Mekong Subregion and thereby raise the standard of living of its people. The Xayaburi dam is the first of a series of 12 proposed dams planned for the Mekong.
Also supporting the dam is Thailand. A major Thai construction firm, Karnchang, is slated to build the dam and a group of Thai banks are supporting the project. Thailand will be the major purchaser of the dam’s electricity, as well. Thailand has a poor track record of balancing river ecology with dam building. The government recently postponed a decision on opening the Pak Moon River dam that has been found by studies to be a poor investment because the money spent is not justified by the low amount of electricity it has produced.
Opposed to the dam is Vietnam because of the damaging effect that it could have on the Mekong delta that is a major rice growing area in the country. Dams retard the flow of silt and when the annual floods arrive in the delta, the soil is reinvigorated.
The position of Cambodia is somewhat murky: will it side with Vietnam or Laos? The Cambodian press has reported extensively on the proposed project and as Cambodia is downstream from the dam, its concerns may coincide with those of Vietnam.
The member countries also agreed to disclose to the public the MRC technical review which has been used by the four countries as part of their consideration of the Xayaburi project.
There is growing concern that the Xayaburi dam might be hit by an earthquake. On March 24 a 6.8 earthquake rattled through the region from Myanmar to Hanoi and even shook buildings in Bangkok.
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