WWF response to work underway at Xayaburi dam site in Laos



Posted on 25 April 2012  | 

The December 2011 ministerial-level meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) agreed to delay a decision on building the Xayaburi dam pending further studies on the impacts of the controversial project. That said, land clearing and road development is occurring in and around the Xayaburi site. WWF would be concerned if the steps agreed by MRC and ministers in December are not followed.

"It is clear construction workers are on site," said Marc Goichot, WWF Greater Mekong's Sustainable Hydropower Manager. "The Mekong River Commission should appoint a group of representatives from its council to visit the proposed dam site to monitor and respond to the situation."

Last week, the dam developer, Ch. Karnchang informed the Stock Exchange of Thailand that it had signed a contract with Xayaburi Power Co to build the 51.8 billion baht dam in Laos and to purchase 1.28 gigawatts of power from the dam.

"We also urge Laos to inform the other members of the MRC about the accuracy of the recent statement by the developer, and to clarify whether the December agreement by the MRC has been breached." added Goichot.

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam agreed to approach the Government of Japan and other international development partners to support further studies on the sustainable management of the Mekong river, including impacts from mainstream hydropower development projects. No timeline has yet been set for when a final decision will be reached on the construction of the mainstream dam.

Criticism of the Xayaburi project has been mounting over the past year, with concerns centred on the serious gaps in data and failures to fully account for the impacts of the dam, particularly concerning fisheries and sediment flows.

A recent review of the dam development identified uncertainties and weaknesses with the proposed fish passes. Any dam built on the lower Mekong River mainstream risks blocking the migration route and survival of critical fish species, such as the Mekong giant catfish.

Current scientific information suggests the Mekong giant catfish migrate from the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia up the Mekong River to spawn in northern Thailand and Laos.

The recent review of the project also confirmed the Xayaburi project will block part of the sediment flow and that important gaps in knowledge concerning the sediment aspects remain. The Mekong’s rich sediment is essential for maintaining balance in the Mekong ecosystem, which is critical for sustainable fisheries and livelihoods.

WWF urges governments to defer a decision on any dam projects on the Mekong mainstream for at least 10 years until proper risk assessment is conducted.

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