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Major Meeting Over Contentious Laos Dam Scheduled

Cambodian non-governmental organization (NGOs) activists shout slogans during a protest against a proposed Don Sahong dam, in a tourist boat along the Tonle Sap river, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014.

The Vientiane-based Mekong River Commission will hold a regional public consultation on a controversial dam project in Laos later this month.

The Don Sahong dam discussion will allow civil society and other relevant stakeholders to voice their concerns over the dam’s impacts, the commission said in a statement.

The consultation is part of the prior process obliged by 1995 Mekong agreement, which requires any member of the MRC’s four member countries—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam—to notify and consult with other members on any proposed hydropower dams on the Mekong River.

The Dec. 12 meeting will give Laos a chance to defend the dam proposal, while allowing its opponents to discuss their concerns about the dam’s potential ecological and human impacts.

“The prior consultation is not a process to seek approval for a proposed project,” Hans Guttman, CEO of the MCR Secretariat, said in the statement. “Rather, it is a platform for Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, as notified countries, to raise issues of concern on potential effects the project may have on their territories. The process is also an opportunity for Lao PDR, who proposes the project for development, to better understand the concerns and to consider measures to address them.”

Apart from the public consultation, the MRC is arranging a field trip to the dam site for interested stakeholders the day before the meeting begins.

Laos plans to build the Don Sahong dam on the main channel of the Mekong River in the Siphandone area of Khone Falls, less than two kilometers upstream from the Cambodian border.

Environmentalists say the dam would block the only year-round passage for fish migration between Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of people—not just in Laos, but in upstream Thailand and downstream Cambodia.

The 32-meter, 260-megawatt dam is also threatening the survival of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. If built, it would destroy the unique biodiversity of the area, known as Four Thousand Islands, a popular tourist destination in Laos, critics say.

“We ask the decision makers to ensure communities’ concerns be integrated into their decision on the dam,” said Luy Reaksmey, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, a local non-governmental organization based in Cambodia’s Stung Streng province, which borders the Lao province of Champasak, where the dam site is located.

Last year, the Lao government approved an environmental impact assessment prepared by the dam developer, Mega First Corporation, of Malaysia. But experts say the assessment did not meet international standards and lacked necessary information, especially on the trans-boundary impacts that the dam could cause.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said in an interview that the lack of the information means relevant parties from Cambodia may request the project be delayed at the upcoming public consultation. “There have been requests for the delay of the project for further, in-depth studies, because of the lack of the information and documents,” he said. “So we need to collect the information first.”