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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        29  March 2011

Mekong River Commission discloses proposed dam’s environmental impacts

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The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat review of transboundary social issues related to Laos’ controversial proposed Xayaburi hydropower dam on the Mekong River focuses mainly on the consequences of environmental impacts, the Secretariat said in its latest report.

MRC is the inter-governmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are the four MRC members. The Secretariat – the operational arm of MRC – acts as a facilitating body for the prior consultation process for the Xayaburi dam project.

The Secretariat said the latest report was presented at an MRC Joint Committee Meeting in Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk Province on March 26. The four member countries agreed to disclose to the public the MRC review which has been used by the four countries as part of their consideration of the Xayaburi project.

The Secretariat said social issues related to resettlement and other local impacts are outside of the scope of the review.

The Xayaburi dam is located about 150 km downstream of Luang Prabang City in northern Laos. The dam has an installed capacity of 1,260 megawatts with a dam 810 m long and 32 m high and has a reservoir area of 49 km2 and live storage of 1,300 cubic metres. The developer is Ch. Karnchang Public Co. Ltd. of Thailand.

The MRC review said for the cascade of six dams upstream from Laos’ Vientiane excluding proposed tributary dams, incremental effects regarding fish losses due to reduced capture fisheries are estimated at about 66,000 tons per year.

The livelihoods of about 450,000 people, mostly in Laos and Vietnam, would be at risk to some extent, according to the report.

The distribution of the number of affected people among countries would need to be further analysed based on more extensive social information, said the review.

The Xayaburi project, proposed by the Lao Government, falls under MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process, which requires the four countries come together with the aim of reaching a conclusion on the proposal within six months of its submission. The deadline for the end of this formal process is April 22, 2011.

During the 33rd MRC Joint Committee Meeting in Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk Province on Mar. 24-26, the four countries agreed that they would join with the intent to seek a conclusion at the newly-scheduled meeting on April 21, 2011

The MRC latest report wrote, “If the project proceeds, the Secretariat recommends that further discussion on the detailed recommendations in this report would be required to ensure relevant provisions are incorporated into the Concession Agreement and Power Purchase Agreement.”

The review highlights a number of areas of uncertainty on which further information is needed to address fully the extent of transboundary impacts and mitigation measures required. Some of these have implications for the financing and operation of the proposed project as well as its long-term sustainability. The findings and recommendations included in the review report have implications for the consideration of the member countries in forming their views on the proposed use and for the next stages of planning and design

Earthquake Concerns

Late March 24, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the east of Myanmar near the borders with Thailand and Laos and was felt as far away as the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. The powerful earthquake killed 74 people in Myanmar and one in Thailand by March 26, according to officials from the two countries.

There are concerns that Xayaburi Province might be hit by an earthquake.

The MRC latest report wrote that the earthquake near Xayaburi in February 2011 emphasised the need for an independent review of the project according to international safety standards. The project documents demonstrate a commitment to observing international standards for dam safety including consideration of a Maximum Credible Earthquake.

However, the report does not yet say how strong a quake the proposed Xayaburi dam would stand.

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