Xayaburi dam stirs debate on Mekong River Commission

When ministers from the four member countries of the Mekong River Commission and donors meet in Luang Prabang, Laos this week, the future role of the agency will be on the table. Questions about the effectiveness of the Mekong River Commission, set up in 1995 to jointly manage sustainable development, have been raised by Laos’ decision in November to go ahead with the US$3.5-billion (105 billion baht) Xayaburi dam project. … Cambodia and Vietnam, two downstream countries that stand to suffer the most from the dam, have tempered their reaction to Xayaburi. “We wish Laos would continue its study on environmental impacts and to work up the final design of Xayaburi dam, and work with Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand on the comprehensive, in-depth study on accumulative environmental and socio-economic impacts of all the hydropower projects in the Mekong River mainstream,” the Vietnamese government said. Cambodia has been similarly diplomatic. … Member countries may be reluctant to question the Xayaburi dam, but donors whose contributions account for the lion’s share of the commission’s budget are expected to raise objections. “If decision-making continues to occur outside of the MRC, the institution will soon lose its legitimacy and 300 million dollars of international donor support to the commission will be wasted,” said Jian-hua Meng, sustainable hydropower specialist at the World Wildlfie Fund.