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Cambodia Says Laos Lacks Documents on Transboundary Impacts of Proposed Pak Beng Dam

Lao's Xayaburi electricity dam construction is expected to be completed in late 2019. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

Environmental groups have urged “a fair balance” on Mekong dams, reiterating concerns over the new proposed dam.

Cambodia will request further information on the transboundary impacts of Laos’ proposed Pak Beng hydropower project following an upcoming regional stakeholder meeting on Friday, an official has said.

So Sophort, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said Cambodia would attend the meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in Vientiane, which is part of a six month prior consultation process for the 921-megawatt dam.

He said when the process concludes in June, Cambodia would call for more detailed impact assessments as the current information provided by Laos was inadequate.

“In general, we see that the documents provided by Lao have many loopholes, especially related to transboundary impacts to lower countries, including Cambodia,” Sophort said.

“We also want to see the collective impacts [of all Laos’ dams] since the Mekong has 11 proposed dams. We want to see the collective impacts on water quality, fisheries, sediment, environment and ecology,” he added.

The $2.3 billion project is the third such dam Laos is building on the Lower Mekong mainstream, much to the dismay of environmental groups and downstream communities who stand to be affected. The dam is expected to be approved and completed in 2024.

It would follow two other mega-projects Laos has undertaken on the Mekong: the Don Sahong and Xayaburi dams, which have become major concerns for environmentalists.

Environmental groups have urged “a fair balance” on Mekong dams, reiterating concerns over the new proposed dam.

International Rivers has urged the MRC and regional governments to extend the prior consultation process for Pak Beng in order to conduct new studies based on up-to-date data and analysis.

“The Prior Consultation should also take into account the findings of the MRC's Council Study, which is due for completion in December and looks at cumulative and basin-wide impacts of all planned Mekong mainstream dams and is important to properly understand the environmental and social costs of these projects,” said Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia program director at International Rivers.

“The Prior Consultation for the first two dams, the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, was in both cases a highly controversial and fraught process, with Lower Mekong governments - Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - unable to reach agreement,” she added.

“The stakes for the Mekong and the people of the region are too high to get it wrong on Mekong dams.”

The MRC said this week’s forum would allow for feedback from participants and also feature a presentation of the MRC’s technical review of Laos’ plans.

Daovong Phonekeo, permanent secretary of the Laos Ministry of Energy, told VOA Khmer that there are no new concerns and the Laos government has followed all regulations and procedure as requested by the MRC.

“For our position in Pak Beng, we support the project to be implemented,” he said. “I don’t think there is a new concern because the project is upstream from Xayaburi. I think the main concern is about the coordination within this project and Xayaburi project.”

“We have carried out all of the mitigation measures in accordance with Xayaburi project,” he added.

Laos has not yet outlined a timeline for construction, but after the prior consultation process is completed later this year it was likely talks with the developer would begin, Davong said.

It is expected that 25 villages in Laos and two villages in Thailand will be directly affected by construction of the Pak Beng dam, with an estimated 6,700 people re-settled, according to International Rivers.

Thailand has said it will conduct further studies of Pak Beng’s impacts.

In February, Vietnam Rivers Network shared their concerns, saying that prior consultation processes should be re-evaluated to include overall impacts of large dam projects.

Laos contributes about 41 percent of the flow into the Mekong River, more than any other country. The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, it plans to develop more dams to profit from electricity exports.