Vietnam and Cambodia have finally joined the battle over the future of the Mekong River, after months of dithering at the decision by Laos to start work on the controversial Xayaburi Dam.
Laos reached an agreement with downstream countries Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand more than a year ago to suspend construction of the US$3.5-billion (Bt113 billion) dam while independent studies were made on fish migration patterns and the possible threat posed by the dam to food security.
About 60 million people depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods through a hand-to-mouth existence.
However, Vientiane ignored what amounted to a moratorium, Thai construction companies went to work immediately in November at the site and plans for further dams were released.
At last week’s meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in Luang Prabang, Cambodia demanded that all construction be immediately halted and argued that Laos had misinterpreted previous agreements. Meanwhile, Vietnam insisted that no dams be constructed until an agreed upon independent study is completed.
Thai general contracting and infrastructure development group Ch Karnchang – through its 50 per-cent-owned subsidiary Xayaburi Power Co – has a 29-year concession to operate the dam’s 1,285-megawatt power plant, as well as assurances from Thailand that it will purchase about 95 per cent of the electricity generated.
Cambodia and Vietnam are demanding a regional consensus before construction can start.