11/06/2012, 00.00
LAOS
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Vientiane go ahead for Xayaburi dam. Bangkok agrees, environmentalists at war

The Laotian Government has given the green light to the resumption of work on the mega-plant for more than three billion dollars. Executive denies there are environmental problems. Opinion shared by Thailand. Ecologists and associations: "devastating" plants that put the region's development at risk.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/agencies)-The Laotian Government's decision to give the final go-ahead to the construction of Xayaburi dam has sparked opposing reactions: environmentalists and ecologists against, as well as the lower Mekong Governments. Praise and support, however, from Bangkok that welcomes Vientiane's decision that the mega-plant "would not have a devastating impact" on the region as shown by recent studies. Last July the Government had ordered a halt to construction while waiting for new research (cfr. AsiaNews 7/7/2012 Xayaburi Dam, Vientiane promises halt on construction), to render the plant "modern and transparent"; However, residents and activists had denounced the continuation of work in spite of superficial declarations.

The Laotian deputy Minister for Energy and Mining Viraphonh Viravong announced that "we will hold a ceremony Wednesday, that will mark the restart of work on the Xayaburi dam". Among the first targets the realization of roads leading to the plant and a set of instruments to facilitate the builders and construction companies. Today the Bangkok Government expressed full support to the decision of Vientiane, ensuring that Thai experts research also show that "there is no adverse impact".

Other than the opinion of ecologists and pro-environment activists, who have long struggled to prevent the construction of the dam. Ame Kenny Tan, Director of programmes for South-East Asia of International Rivers, an organization based in California (USA) dedicated to the protection of rivers and streams, stresses that "the Xayaburi dam is only the first of a host of devastating dams on the main watercourse", which "will harm efforts for the development of the region".

The project for the Xayaburi dam foresees the construction of a hydroelectric plant to the tune of 3.7 billion dollars and extent of 1,260 megawatts, in a remote area in Northern Laos. It involves forcibly moving 2,100 people and will have serious consequences on tens of thousands of other people. Construction has been entrusted to a Thai company and it will be the Land of the Elephants to reap the greatest benefits from Vientiane's determination to become "the battery of Southeast Asia". The Mekong River Commission (Cfm) has repeatedly called for a 10-year moratorium on building, highlighting the risk of a collapse in fishing mainly in neighboring Cambodia.

About 65 million people live along the Mekong River, which originates on the Tibetan plateau and flows along the Yunnan province of China, to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The long river is a source of income for many countries, from fishing (estimated at around three billion dollars a year) and fish farms. But now the River, 4,880 km long and believed to be the second richest in the world for biodiversity, is under threat from many hydroelectric dam projects: Xayaburi- the first in the lower part of the river- is added four other systems already operating in China, in the upper Mekong. It will become operational by 2019 and 90% of the energy produced will be exported to neighboring Thailand.

 

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