News / Asia

Laos Plans New Study on Dam Effects

A Cambodian fisherman holds a bag loaded with fish from the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (FILE).
A Cambodian fisherman holds a bag loaded with fish from the Mekong River on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (FILE).

Laos says it will conduct new research on the environmental effects of a hydropower dam it wants to build on the lower Mekong River, bowing to requests from neighboring nations for more study on the project.

Daovong Phonekeo, the deputy director general of the country's Department of Electricity, said Tuesday the country will hire advisers to do the study, and will ask a Thai construction company that is playing a leading role in the project to fund the study.

He says construction work on the project will be delayed for the study.

The Xayaburi dam will be the first hydropower dam on the lower reaches of the river, although China has built dams on the upper stretches of the river.

Last month, at the Mekong River Commission, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, which the Mekong also flows through, asked for more information on the dam's possible effects on wildlife, fish stocks and farming along the river.

Vietnam has asked that all planned hydropower dams on the river be delayed for 10 years for further study. The commission, which aims to build a regional consensus for sustainable development of the river, does not have the power to block any dam projects.

Laos plans to build a series of dams on the river to generate electricity, which it can sell to other countries. Thailand earlier had agreed to buy 95 percent of the power from the project.

About 60 million people depend on the Mekong directly or indirectly for their livelihoods. Environmental groups, including the WWF, have expressed concern that dams on the Mekong could endanger rare fish and wildlife, and could damage farms along the 4,800-kilometer river.

The WWF on Tuesday urged that international best practices be used in any studies to evaluate the dam's effects.

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