Xayaburi dam delay pending further studies is a positive step | WWF

Xayaburi dam delay pending further studies is a positive step

Posted on 08 December 2011    
The Mekong River winding through the flooded forest in Cambodia.
© WWF Greater Mekong
Siem Reap, Cambodia – The ministerial-level meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has agreed to delay a decision on building the Xayaburi dam in northern Laos pending further studies on the impacts of the controversial project.

Ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam reached the consensus decision at a meeting of the MRC - an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four lower Mekong countries.

The countries 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 that has been criticized for not fully considering the impacts on biodiversity, fisheries and sediment flows.

A positive step towards sound stewardship

“Lower Mekong countries have taken a positive step towards sound stewardship of one of the region’s most valued and important resources,” said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF’s Sustainable Hydropower Specialist. “We commend their decision today to pursue studies that look holistically at the sustainable management of the Mekong river.”

“The countries must now use this delay to properly and fully assess the impacts of the dam project, using the best scientific advice and consultative processes. International consultants contracted to provide their expertise must adhere to international best practice and not cut corners.”

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.

In April this year the Joint Committee of the MRC did not reach agreement on the Xayaburi dam and agreed to defer the final decision to the ministerial level.

The decision to again postpone a decision on the Xayaburi dam project sends a strong signal that the current risks and knowledge gaps concerning the dam project cannot be compromised.

“Any further studies undertaken by the lower Mekong countries must be inclusive of all stakeholders, transparent and comprehensive, and any sound recommendations put forward should be implemented.” added Dr Meng.

One of the world's last large untamed stretches of river

The Mekong winds 4,800 kilometres down to the South China Sea, making it the longest river in Southeast Asia. The Lower Mekong, one of the last large untamed stretches of river in the world, supports nearly 60 million people with its rich fisheries. More than 700 species of freshwater fish ply its water, including four of the world’s biggest freshwater fish species, notably the iconic and endangered Mekong giant catfish.

WWF has been advocating a 10 year moratorium on lower Mekong mainstream dams until there is adequate information to assess their impacts. WWF advises lower Mekong countries considering hydropower projects to prioritise dams on some Mekong tributaries that are easier to assess and are considered to have a much lower impact and risk.

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