Environment group voices concerns over Mekong dam

An environmental watchdog based in Viet Nam is asking the Laos government to reconsider the construction of a controversial hydropower plant along the Mekong River.

The non-governmental organisation Viet Nam River Network issued a press release last Friday stating that the Don Sahong project, the second largest dam approved by the Laos government, would adversely affect the area.

The organisation aims to protect the diverse ecology from the dam to the river estuary, as well as the livelihood of communities in the lower areas of Tonle Sap in Cambodia and Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta in Viet Nam.

An estimated 70 million people in the area would be impacted by the dam and its power grid, which could harm fishery and agriculture, according to the network.

The network said the damage would be compounded by the effects of 11 power dams that are operating along the Mekong River. Constructing a new dam would solidify the socio-economic imbalance in those countries and create an uncertain future for poor people living in rural communities near the river, the network said.

“Viet Nam River Network understands that the dam would be meaningful on the economic side of Laos, but it will ruin the ecology in the Mekong sub-region, as well as the future of affected communities in neighbouring Cambodia and Viet Nam.

The network recommended that construction be postponed until at least the end of the year to allow for a thorough environmental impact assessment report on the Don Sahong project to be conducted. It also suggested that the governments of Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam provide more input on the project.

After the report is released, the parties involved in the project should reach out to the four Mekong lower countries on the International Mekong Committee for input, the network suggested.

Earlier this month, the Phnom Penh Post reported that Laos National Assembly reached an agreement with the Malaysia-based Mega First Corporation on a franchise contract for the project.

The Vientiane Times reported that the Laos National Assembly approved the construction of the Don Sahong dam during a session last July.

In addition to Viet Nam River Network, the World Wildlife Fund has also spoken out against the potential impacts of the dam. It said the lives of 85 critically-endangered Mekong River dolphins would be at greater risk if the Don Sahong dam is built. 

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