Anger over the Lao government’s unilateral decision to go ahead with a second hydropower project on the mekong – despite a storm of controversy about dams on the lower stretch of the river – has fired a groundswell of opposition both within Thailand and the region.
Anti-dam meetings are planned in Nong Khai and Bangkok this week against the Xayaburi dam, being built south of Luang Prabang, and the Don Sahong project, which the Lao regime wants to start work on next month, in the Siphandon (Thousand Islands) area near the southern border with Cambodia.
Two of the world’s leading conservation groups – International Rivers and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) – have also voiced alarm about the latest move by Laos, which appears to contravene regional agreements to consult neighbours and reach a consensus before proceeding with any project that could jeopardise the status of the river and its rich marine life.
Laos has claimed that Don Sahong is only a channel of the Mekong, and that the project to build a facility that would generate 260 megawatts of electricity will have minimal impact on the river. But this is disputed by environmentalists, who say there are alternatives such as the Thakho project in the Khone Falls area, which would have much less environmental and social impact.
Scientists from Cambodia and Vietnam will attend both events – a two-day forum at Muang Phu Paradise Hotel in Nong Khai, starting today, and a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok on tonight.
Anti-dam opponents from a range of Thai groups will present findings from studies among groups living adjacent to the river at the regional conference in Nong Khai. They want an immediate stop to work at the Xayaburi dam site, a huge US$3.5-billion project already well underway, until “proper and independent” impact studies are done and a consensus reached about whether that project, and the proposed Don Sahong dam, should go ahead.