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  • » 03/07/2014, 00.00


    In Laos, poorly designed Don Sahong dam threatens Mekong

    Environmentalists slam Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) based on "incomplete" research. The project endangers fish and more than 60 million people living in the lower basin of the river. Some of the endangered species are "unique". Damage is estimated at between US$ 1.4 and 3.9 billion a year.

    Vientiane (AsiaNews) - The developer of the proposed Don Sahong Dam on the Mekong River in Laos has based the project's Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) on "flawed and incomplete research". It has also failed to consult communities that would be affected by it, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Tuesday.

    For the conservation group, the lives of least 60 million people living along the lower basin of the river are at risk, not to mention the river's fish population.

    Because the EIA made by Malaysia's Mega First Berhad, the company selected to build the dam, is so flawed, the environmental group wants the 260-megawatt project to be suspended. Construction was slated to start by the end of September.

    In Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the dam has already set off numerous protests. For critics, the dam project has failed to vet its impact downstream.

    The "WWF's review, conducted by international fish passage experts, finds the EIA riddled with problems such as inappropriate research methods, contradictory or lack of evidence and making recommendations on mitigation that have not been proven to work," the conservation group said.

    For the WWF, the dam's site is wrong, chosen without proper knowledge relating to the natural environment and the people living in the area.

    Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Chhith Sam Ath, country director for the WWF in Cambodia, said that the EIA needs to be carried out "objectively and scientifically" in order to fully understand the risks to people, natural resources and wildlife in the Lower Mekong.

    In its current form, the EIA does not address trans-boundary concerns, and lacks critical knowledge and data regarding the impact of the dam. It therefore "cannot be considered acceptable as a scientific study". Instead, the dam can be expected to "hasten the extinction of the river's unique wildlife."

    If built, the Don Sahong, which is to be located slightly more than a kilometre from the Lao-Cambodia border, will block the Hou Sahong Channel - the only year-round channel for trans-boundary fish migration on the Mekong.

    For the WWF, blocking the channel would cause "permanent damage" to the Mekong basin's fishery resources, which it valued at between U.S. .4 billion and .9 billion per year.

    According to design guidance by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body that monitors development on the waterway, hydropower projects must ensure that 95 percent of target fish species can pass through the dam's fish passage, WWF said.

    Chhith Sam Ath said that there was no scientific evidence in the Environmental Impact Assessment to support claims that the Don Sahong will not have a significant impact on fisheries.

    For this reason, WWF experts want a joint Lao-Cambodian commission to study the issue, hoping that bilateral talks between Phnom Penh and Vientiane will include residents in the area affected by the project.

    The Mekong River starts in the Tibetan plateau, flows through China's Yunnan province until it reaches Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

    About 65 million people live along the river, relying on fish farms and the natural fishery, which is worth an estimated US$ 3 billion.

    Considered the second most important river in the world in terms of biodiversity, the 4,880-km long Mekong is threatened by a number of projects involving dams and hydroelectric power plants.

    Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have called for a ten-year moratorium but have not had any success. Meanwhile, there has been a 300,000 tonnes drop in fish catch.

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    See also

    03/03/2012 CAMBODIA
    Phnom Penh: fishing bill to protect the Mekong dolphin
    Tourism, Agriculture and Transportation Ministries are expected to present a draft bill to protect 180 kilometres of river. The cabinet should approve the proposal in the near future. Fish cages and gill nets would be banned. WWF expert praises the proposal, calling it "essential".

    18/04/2014 LAOS - THAILANDIA
    Thai geologists warn Xayaburi dam is an earthquake risk
    The huge barrage under construction on the Laotian section of Mekong River is located near active fault lines and is therefore vulnerable to seismic activity. There is a 30 per cent chance of a medium-sized earthquake in the next 30 years, and a 10 per cent chance of a magnitude 7 tremor. Builders claim instead that the project complies with all earthquake safety rules

    16/09/2011 CAMBODIA – LAOS – VIETNAM
    Vietnamese study: Xayaburi dam could cause earthquakes
    The site chosen for mega project in Laos is on the course of the River Mekong and only about 100km from a fault line. The project has brought protests from conservation groups and representatives from Cambodia and Vietnam, because it could threaten the ecological balance in the area. Senior Laotian officials: work will start "before the end of this year ”.

    04/05/2013 ASIA
    WWF warns: Mekong forests endangered
    Agriculture and trade in illegal timber has stripped a third of the forest area. From 1973 to 2009 between 22 and 24% of the total forest lost, endangering habitat of tigers and elephants, increasingly threatened with extinction. Dams on the river, including the mega-central Xayaburi compounding the problem.

    20/10/2010 LAOS – VIETNAM – CHINA
    Calls for a moratorium on Mekong dam building that destroy environment and people
    Laos and Cambodia are planning to build dams to generate electrical power for sale. China, which already has four big dams upstream, is accused of taking too much water. The river’s ecosystems and the lives of 65 million people are at risk. Vietnam and Thailand are not against a US role in the matter.

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