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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        28  March 2011

Extra meeting on Mekong dam set

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Mekong countries to have extra meeting for controversial Xayaburi dam Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand have agreed to convene a special session on the prior consultation process for Laos’ controversial proposed Xayaburi hydropower dam on the Mekong River before determining how they should proceed with the proposal, the Mekong River Commission announced Friday.

The four Lower Mekong Basin countries reached this decision at the 33rd MRC Joint Committee Meeting in Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk Province on Mar. 24-26.

They agreed that they would join with the intent to seek a conclusion at the newly scheduled meeting on April 21, 2011, said the MRC – the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin.

The Xayaburi project, proposed by the Lao government, falls under the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process, which require 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.

The Xayaburi project, designed to generate power for consumption in Thailand and Laos, is tabled for consideration, among other management, organizational and procedures-related matters, at this internal meeting.

The Joint Committee Members, comprising one senior official from each of the four countries, agreed to hold a special joint committee meeting in Laos’ Vientiane to come to a conclusion on the project, according to the MRC.

Since the notification of what would be the first dam project on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong River, the countries have conducted national consultations with related stakeholders including potentially affected communities, to gauge their views and perspectives on the project.

The MRC Secretariat – the operational arm of the MRC – also commissioned a team of experts in several sectors including fisheries, sediment and dam safety design to review documents including the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by the Lao Government to other MRC countries.

The Secretariat acts as a facilitating body for the prior consultation process. Friday’s MRC statement said the JC Members 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.

MRC added that the report was presented at the meeting Saturday in Preah Sihanouk Province but the member countries have not provided their official comments on it yet. Laos, as the notifying country, commented that the report is a valuable contribution to the process of considering the Xayaburi project as well as other similar development initiatives but will provide its detailed comments at a later time.

The Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement state that member countries must notify the MRC’s Joint Committee in the event they wish to engage in any major infrastructure developments, such as hydropower schemes, on the mainstream Mekong or tributaries, particularly as those developments may have significant trans-boundary impacts on people or the environment downstream.

The Xayaburi hydropower project would be the first such project on the Mekong mainstream downstream of China and would be capable of generating 1260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for export to Thailand.

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.

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

On March 24 night, 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 Saturday, according to officials from the two countries.

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