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Communities Want More Information on Mekong Dam

A Western construction worker surveys ongoing work to build a power plant for the Nam Theun 2 dam, south of Vientiane, Laos, (file photo).
A Western construction worker surveys ongoing work to build a power plant for the Nam Theun 2 dam, south of Vientiane, Laos, (file photo).

As a decision nears for Mekong River countries over approval of a hydroelectric dam in Laos, Cambodian civic groups say they have been given few chances to have their voice in the matter heard.

Laos is proposing to build a dam along the Mekong in Xayaburi province, but it needs the approval of other Mekong countries, including Cambodia, in a meeting scheduled in Laos next week. Critics of the dam say it will hurt ecosystems in the river that provide a major source of fish for Cambodians.

Sun Mao, executive director of Kratie province’s Cambodian Rural Development Team, told “Hello VOA” last week that many people still do not understand the dam project or the process for its approval.

“No member of the affected communities were present at the [Kratie] consultation,” he said of a meeting held in the province in February. “But local authorities were invited instead to represent these communities.

The Kratie consultation meeting was the first of two held on the dam. The second was held in Preah Sihanouk province later in February.

The Xayaburi dam is a proposed 810 meters long, 32 meters high and expected to produce 1,260 megawatts of power. The Mekong River Commission, which is made up of committees from all Mekong River countries, will decide on the project April 22.

Sun Mao said there is still little understanding of the dam’s likely impact on a variety of factors, including fish migration and safety concerns in a quake-prone region. The impacts have been “understudied,” he said, “and the dissemination of information on the environmental, social, and cultural impacts, etc. has not been adequate to either civil society groups or affected communities.”

At the February consultations, participants were briefed on the designs of the dam and the decision-making process for its construction, but Sun Mao said the environmental impact report was not distributed.

A Mekong River Commission official recently told VOA Khmer that Cambodia could lose as much as 63 percent of the total regional fisheries loss, if six proposed dams went ahead in Laos. The Xayaburi dam would be the first of those.

International Rivers, an environmental group that opposes the dam, said recently that consultations took place in Thailand and Vietnam over the proposed dam, but it is unclear whether any took place in Laos.

In March, 263 non-governmental groups from 51 countries submitted a letter to leaders from Laos and Thailand, which will derive power from the dam, asking that they scrap the Xayaburi project.

Sun Mao said more studies are necessary, especially now that Cambodia’s own civic groups have a better understanding of the issue.

“If there is construction of a mainstream dam, we are certain that we will be affected,” he said. “The scale of this we do not know.”