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Fishing Communities Voice Concerns Over Laos Dam as Consultation Ends

A computer image of the proposed Pak Beng hydropower dam. (Courtesy photo of Pak Beng hydropower project)

The $2.3 billion project will be located about 1,500 kilometers from the Cambodia-Laos border and is expected to be completed in 2024.

Fishing communities around the Tonle Sap Lake have called on Laos to scrap a controversial Mekong hydropower project after the consultation period for the project ended this week.

The prior consultation period for the Pak Beng hydropower dam ended on Monday, according to a statement from the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Campaigners and governments opposing the project, including Cambodia, have said the dam would have a devastating impact on downstream fisheries, as well as numerous other negative effects on the environment and communities that depend on the Mekong River system.

The MRC in its statement called on Laos to do more to address the “potential adverse transboundary impacts of the Pak Beng project”.

Long Socheat, a representative of fishing communities on the Tonle Sap, said: “We will keep demanding Laos study more before launching the Pak Beng hydropower development plan. If Laos won’t drop the Pak Beng project, it could badly affect fisheries.”

The $2.3 billion project will be located about 1,500 kilometers from the Cambodia-Laos border and is expected to be completed in 2024.

Socheat added that downstream communities would “put the burden on Laos” if they proceeded with the project.

Chheng Kimheng, a community representative in Kampong Thom province, echoed Socheat’s concerns.

“We will not stop complaining because if we stop, citizens around the Tonle Sap Lake will have nothing to depend on because nowadays we have not seen anyone who cares about their fate,” she said, pointing to a number of large hydropower projects in Cambodia that have already had measurably negative impacts on fishing communities.

Laos is building two other large hydropower projects that have stoked controversy in Cambodia -- the Xayaburi and Don Sahong. But in response Laos has signed electricity provision deals with Cambodia, where it will send 1,500 megawatts of power annually. Laos counters accusations of environmental and social impacts by saying it needs the dams to boost economic growth and reduce poverty.

However, Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, said no cross-border studies of the impacts of the Pak Beng project had been conducted, adding that civil society groups had asked for the project to be put “on hold” so further discussions could take place.

Cambodian representatives at the MRC could not be reached.