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Save the Mekong calls for dam review

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BANGKOK, 21 September 2018: Pressure is mounting on the Lao PDR government to conduct a fresh impact assessment study of a proposed fourth dam on the lower Mekong River according to Save the Mekong, a coalition of non-government organisations.

The call for a review and a fresh impact assessment coincided with the Mekong River Commission’s regional stakeholder forum on the Pak Lay Hydropower Project.

Save the Mekong is calling for a new Trans-boundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (TBESIA) and Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) for the proposed Pak Lay dam due to the poor quality of the current assessments the NGO said in a statement Thursday.

Communities that rely on the Mekong River for their livelihood and the fast growing leisure travel industry in Laos and neighbouring countries stand to lose the most if massive hydro-electric dam projects continue to be built on the Mekong River.

But travel and hospitality corporations and leaders are vocal about reducing single-use plastic, while ignoring the disruption that dams inflict on the iconic Mekong River and its communities.

Pak Lay is the fourth dam on the lower Mekong mainstream in Lao PDR and has recently commenced the MRC’s Prior Consultation process.

Save the Mekong said the stated purpose of the Pak Lay TBESIA/CIA is “to provide decision makers with timely information on the potential trans-boundary and cumulative environmental and social consequences.”

However, due to “serious flaws”, the Pak Lay assessment does not provide a reliable basis to inform planning and decision-making about the potential trans-boundary and cumulative impacts of the project, the NGO stated.

It claims that consultations should be halted until new assessments are conducted of a sufficient standard to ensure informed and meaningful participation in decisions regarding the project.

Large sections of the Pak Lay TBESIA/CIA report were copied directly from the Pak Beng dam TBESIA/CIA report, dated 2015 the NGO claimed.

Conducted by the MRC over a six-year period at a cost of USD4.7 million the assessment was supposed to establish a reliable scientific evidence base on the environmental, social and economic impacts of Mekong development.

At least 90% of the social baseline conditions section of the Pak Lay dam TBSEIA/CIA was copied directly from the Pak Beng dam assessment, including photos, tables and text.

For example, the public involvement section is an almost exact copy of the Pak Beng report, with the main change being the name of the dam. However, the authors neglected to change the name of the company, so the Pak Lay report still mentions Datang, which is actually the developer of Pak Beng.

During the recent ASEAN World Economic Forum in Vietnam, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said that, “from now on the construction of hydroelectricity dams in Laos must undergo proper studies” and “be based on the conditions of top-quality studies and research. Designs must meet international standards and be scientifically sound.”

A new TBESIA/CIA must be conducted for the proposed Pak Lay hydropower project and draw on updated studies, conduct meaningful consultations with potentially affected communities, including those in neighbouring countries, and must be conducted in accordance with international standards.

The Pak Lay dam should be suspended until a new TBESIA/CIA is completed, Save the Mekong Coalition concluded in its press statement.

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