Developing a dam on the “Hou Sahong channel” of the Mekong River in Champassak province does not breach the 1995 Mekong Agreement, a senior government official has said.
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong made the comment last Thursday, after the Lao government notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with development of the 260MW “run-of-river” dam.
Leading environmental groups and some foreign media have said that Laos is in violation of the Mekong agreement, for failing to conduct prior consultation with downstream neighbours before giving the project the go-ahead. But Viraphonh claimed that Laos abides by the 1995 Mekong Agreement for sustainable development of the river. It calls the Don Sahong dam as “an intra-basin water use” – a category in the agreement under which the developer is only required to notify and not consult downstream neighbours in the MRC, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Viraphonh said Laos did not regard the dam as on the “Mekong mainstream”, which would require prior consultation. He said the Hou Sahong was just one of 17 channels in the Siphandon area and water flow through the channel represented only 5 percent of total river flow.
However, Viraphonh said Laos would welcome discussion on any issues of concern. “We are pleased to take reasonable feedback from our downstream neighbours into account,” he said. Any issues could also be raised at MRC ministerial or senior officials\’ meetings.
Viraphonh dismissed reports that the Hou Sahong was the only channel for fish migration during the dry season. He said there were several channels that allowed year-round fish migration.
“I am confident that the project will have no significant impact on our downstream neighbours.”
The authorities plan to invite representatives from the media, non-government organisations and interested parties to visit the project site soon.
Photo: International Rivers: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/don-sahong-dam