Dam project threatens Mekong River

SINGAPORE, 9 October 2019: Pressure is growing on Lao PDR to retract its decision to build a massive dam project on the Mekong River near the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang according to Save the Mekong Coalition.

In a statement released, Tuesday, the non-government organisation said the Mekong River was facing a crisis.

It warned climate change, and large-scale dams on the Mekong mainstream and tributaries are making Mekong’s flows and levels more unpredictable.

Apart from the impact of climate change especially in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, dams are destroying the livelihood of thousands of river communities and will in the long-run damage tourism linked to towns on the Mekong River.

“From record lows in June and July to major flooding in parts of the basin in August and September, hydropower dams have aggravated the impact on the river and people. Large-scale dams, especially those planned for the Mekong mainstream, are a significant cause of – not the answer to – the Mekong crisis,” Save the Mekong Coalition started.

It accused the Lao PDR government of failing to take urgent steps to address the rapid deterioration of the river system’s health and productivity, on which millions of people depend.

Instead, it claimed Laos had formally notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its intention to build yet another large dam on the Mekong mainstream. The Luang Prabang dam is the fifth dam to be submitted for Prior Consultation under MRC Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA).

Save the Mekong Coalition opposes plans to initiate a prior consultation process for the Luang Prabang dam. It claims there are still on-going concerns over the impacts of existing and proposed mainstream dams that were raised during previous prior consultation processes without resolution.

“We, therefore, call for the Luang Prabang and other planned mainstream dams to be cancelled. Rather than embarking on another flawed prior consultation process, we urge lower Mekong governments and the MRC to address outstanding concerns regarding the impacts of mainstream dams and to undertake a comprehensive options assessment to study alternatives.”

If built, Luang Prabang dam, combined with Pak Beng, Xayaburi and Pak Lay dams, would transform the Mekong River along the entire stretch of northern Laos into a series of stepped lakes, resulting in major and irreversible damage to the health and productivity of the river, the coalition argues.

Vietnam is a lead developer in the  Luang Prabang dam despite having called for greater attention to exploring renewable energy sources as replacements for hydropower in the Mekong Basin.

Mainstream dams are not necessary to meet the region’s energy needs according to the NGO. A 2018 Mekong River Commission summary paper notes that by 2040 Lao plans to export 11,739 MW of power to Thailand, while Thailand’s plans indicate it will only import 4,274MW.

This difference of nearly 7,500 MW is greater than the combined installed capacity of all the seven mainstream dams planned or under construction in Laos.

Dam construction on the Mekong River will ultimately disrupt river transport and bring to an end cruises linking tourist destinations in North Thailand and Laos.