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Lower Mekong Countries Urge Halt to Lao Dam Project

Cambodian fishermen move their fishing net from the Mekong River as they catch fish on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.
Officials from the Mekong countries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam are urging Laos to halt development of a dam project that could have significant impact on downstream communities and ecologies along the river.

The impact of the Don Sahong dam, which would span the main channel of the Mekong River just 2 kilometers above Cambodia, needs more environmental assessments before going forward, experts say.

Lao officials say they are conducting the project transparently and with the proper safeguards.

But Tek Vannara, head of Cambodia’s NGO Forum, a consortium of organizations, told VOA Khmer after a visit to the dam site that he remains concerned.

If the dam is built as planned, it will severely impact fish migration, possibly leading to the vanishing of some species, he said.

“The dam will affect at least 6 million Cambodians living either nearby the site or along the Mekong River or Tonle Sap lake,” he said.

Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese delegations have been allowed to visit the site and others along Mekong tributaries, as Laos seeks alternatives, he said. But alternate tributary sites would not necessarily mitigate the problem, he said.

Meanwhile, more than 50 environmental and development organizations are preparing to submit a letter to the Mekong River Commission, an inter-regional body formed to tackle river issues, voicing their concerns over the impact of the dam.

Sin Niny, permanent vice chair of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, told VOA Khmer that Cambodia has maintained its position: that Laos should stop the project and conduct more environmental assessments.