News / Asia

    Laos Faces Pressure to Stall Decision on Lower Mekong River Dam

    FILE - A man casts a fishing net on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    FILE - A man casts a fishing net on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    Ron Corben

    Laos is facing increasing pressure to delay construction of a 260 megawatt dam on the Lower Mekong River because of concerns about its environmental and social impacts. A gathering last week in Laos highlights the continuing controversy surrounding the project.

    The member states of the Friends of the Lower Mekong came together with the countries of the region last week for the first time since the group was created in 2009 -- marking a new step in diplomatic pressures on the Laos government to delay or halt construction of the Don Sahong Dam.

    Environmental impact

    The planned $600-million project in the Siphandone (Khone Falls) area of southern Laos is less than two kilometers from the Cambodian border. It would create valuable electricity to fuel growth in the region, but environmentalists and neighboring countries worry it could damage an ecological system crucial for feeding millions of people in Southeast Asia.

    The dam would be the second proposed for the Lower Mekong after the $3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos, itself a focus of public debate and controversy over its potential impact on the environment.

    The Laos Government agreed to a six month period of regional consultations on the Don Sahong Dam. But these concluded in late January and Lao officials have indicated they are preparing to start construction soon, despite concerns from groups who say the dam should be studied further.

    The meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong (Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the United States) in the southern Laos town of Pakse centered on issues of water resources, energy needs and food security.

    Carl Thayer, a political scientist at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says the meeting, led by the United States, appeared aimed at sending a message to Laos to reconsider building the Don Sahong Dam.

    “I think it’s The Friends of the Mekong and organized diplomatically because the Don Sahong is not as expensive as the Xayaburi Dam - and its impact is potentially enormous. So it’s easier - in one sense - for Laos to give away something small," Thayer explained. "And concentrate on the big money numbers - if it’s going to become a major political issue.”

    Thayer said both Cambodia and Vietnam have been lobbying strongly for the dam project to be reconsidered given the potential adverse impact on fisheries and water flow.

    Scientists said the dam would block the main river channel, preventing the migration of fish during the dry season, and threatening the highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.

    Concerns: human rights, economy, culture

    Director of the Cambodia-based Khmer Institute of Democracy, Sorya Sim, said international involvement in the decision-making process is needed because of how the dam will affect the river as it flows through other countries.

    “Building a dam is not a one country issue. It’s connected to the region and about human rights, the environment, economic and culture. So it’s a good idea to have an international input whether it’s American, or European or Asian - no problem," said Sorya Sim. "As long as you have more input and the political and legal structure there when to go ahead.”

    But scientists employed by the dam’s construction company, Malaysia-based Mega First Corp, have dismissed the concerns raised by environmental groups, including Vietnam’s fears that it could worsen the already increasing salinity in the Mekong Delta.

    Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator with the U.S.-based environmental group, International Rivers, says it appears that the consultation process overseen by the intergovernmental body, the Mekong River Commission, is broken down, reducing the chance that all affected countries will sign off on the construction.

    “Even though the other three governments did not really agree with the project but the host [Laos] government still insists that it has sovereignty rights to develop the project," Pianporn Deetes noted. "And very important is that the trans-boundary impact has been ignored. So who is paying this cost? [It] is the millions of people whose livelihood depends largely on the Mekong River Resources.”

    The Friends of the Lower Mekong said fresh initiatives are under way to promote sustainable energy, including alternative sources, and funding for studies on the impacts of hydro-power on the communities and the environment and supporting development of a national power grid for Laos.

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora