When Laos announced its intention to proceed with the Xayaburi hydropower project on the lower Mekong over the objections of neighbouring countries in the Mekong River Commission (MRC), it was feared that it would set a precedent.
Those fears were realised on Sept 30 when Laos challenged the MRC again and started construction of a second dam in Champasak province near the Lao-Cambodian border with little fanfare. The Don Sahong project hasn\’t drawn much attention from the public at large, partly due to the murky question of whether it’s actually on the main course of the Mekong.
Activists, however, are again up in arms crying foul and raising concerns over impacts to the river’s ecosystem.
The MRC says work at Don Sahong began on Friday. If finished, the dam will be built to a height of up to 30m and cut across a section of river about 100m across.
Besides the environmental impact of the dam, the MRC is concerned that by going ahead with the Don Sahong project Laos is directly challenging the rules governing the Mekong put in place by the MRC, which is comprised of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It could be argued that Laos had already crossed that bridge with its decision to proceed with the Xayaburi dam without approval from the MRC, but in that case Laos did at least go through the prior consultation process which requires meetings and consultations between member states.
MRC regulations say that if a member country uses water from the main course of the river during the dry season or diverts water from the main course during the rainy season, it must consult with neighbouring Mekong countries first. Laos did submit documents to the MRC on Sept 30 announcing its intention to start construction of the Don Sahong dam, but did not wait for any feedback before it started work.