07/07/2012, 00.00
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Xayaburi Dam, Vientiane promises halt on construction

For the Lao Government work on the mega-plant has been stooped. However, changes are being considered to make the dam more "modern and transparent". Environmentalists sound alarm: the work continues and will have devastating impacts on the river and the Mekong basin countries. Protests of entire villages in Cambodia.

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Laos intends to continue the construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam, a mega hydro-electric plant, the center of controversy over the environmental impact on the Mekong and the people who live along the River. This according to official sources, Wednesday in Vientiane, who confirm the intention to respect the agreements signed with neighboring countries. In recent weeks, environmental groups have sounded the alarm: the main builder Ch Karnchang Pcl says the work would continue, despite assurances to the contrary announced - officially at least - by the Lao government in December last year. For environmentalists the dam would irreparably damage the fish and fishermen's lives. A few days ago entire villages in Cambodia  along the Mekong River, mounted protests.

The Lao Deputy Minister for Energy Viraphonh Viravong declares that the government has kept its promises, promoting in-depth research about the subsurface of the valley of the Mekong. On behalf of the executive he ensures that the project will be developed in a "transparent" fashion, creating "one of the most modern dams in the world." To reach the goal the initial idea changes will be made to the original plans so that "85% of the fish can pass through" the system, in line with the "guidance provided by the Mekong River Commission."

The project on the Xayaburi dam involves the construction of a hydroelectric plant to the tune of 3.5 billion dollars to reach a power supply of 1,260 megawatts, in a remote area in northern Laos. It involves the forced displacement of 2,100 villagers and will have serious consequences for tens of thousands of other people. The implementation is entrusted to a Thai company and the land of the elephants will benefit the most from the exchange. Laos plans to transform itself into the "battery of Southeast Asia." The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is calling for a 10 year moratorium on construction and a study published in February, showed that the dams can cause a drop of 300 thousand tons in fishery per year, with serious consequences for more than a million people, especially in Cambodia.

About 65 million people live along the Mekong River - which rises in the Tibetan plateau and flows along the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, then into Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - who survive on fishing (estimated 3 billion dollars worth per year) and fish farms. But now the river, 4,880 kilometers long and considered the 2nd richest in biodiversity in the world, is threatened by many hydroelectric dam projects, including the Xayaburi dam, which in September Laos has submitted to the Mekong River Commission (MRC).


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