More impact studies, mitigation measures needed for proposed Luang Prabang dam, says a public forum
Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, 7 February 2020 – Mekong stakeholders raised concerns and suggested the Lao government to conduct more assessments on the potential transboundary environmental and social impacts of the proposed Luang Prabang hydropower project.
The stakeholders comprising close to 200 representatives from the civil society, academics, the private sector, development partners and governments aired their concerns and suggestions during the 9th Mekong River Commission Regional Stakeholder Forum held in Luang Prabang on 5 – 6 Feb. The forum aimed to share information and consult stakeholders on the 1,460-megawatt Luang Prabang project on day one, as well as on a development of the Mekong Basing Development Strategy 2021-2030 on day two.
While they appreciated the transparent and timely sharing of project documents by the Lao government through the MRC’s prior consultation process, they cited the quality and inconsistent use of data and information in the submitted documents. They recommended that in-dept studies be conducted and further mitigation measures be explored.
During their presentation on findings from national consultations, representatives from the governments of Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam shared similar views.
“Extended studies on overall social, economic and environmental issues of cumulative and transboundary impacts, including those on fisheries, should be further conducted to ensure that negative impacts from the dam are minimal,” said Mr. Sok Bunheng, a presentative from the Cambodia National Mekong Committee.
“Baseline data of sediment transport at the dam site should be surveyed, monitored and documented properly before construction of the proposed dam commences,” he added.
A representative from the Thai National Mekong Committee Ms. Bunthida Plengsaeng said “mitigation measures for supporting the affected people are requested and the project developer should have a damage insurance scheme with necessary compensation funds.”
Viet Nam National Mekong Committee’s delegates joining the forum through teleconference said “further cumulative impacts of the mainstream hydropower cascade to the Mekong Delta should be assessed, considering bank erosion, delta sinking and lack of water resource with reference to previous studies”.
They added practical mitigation measures should be proposed for lower Mekong countries, while other energy development opportunities including solar and wind should be considered. But they noted that proposed designs appeared to use renowned technology and methodology.
The three countries said they appreciated the Lao government submitting the Luang Prabang hydropower project to the MRC’s prior consultation and continuing to provide project documents to them for review. Proposed on the Mekong mainstream in Houygno village of Luang Prabang province located about 25 km from Luang Prabang town or approximately 2,036 km from the Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta, the power plant is intended mainly for export to Thailand and Viet Nam when the commercial operation starts in 2027.
Representatives from the Lao government said they valued the comments and suggestions from the countries and forum participants and that the government would consider the suggestions.
“We also want a good project that lasts,” said Mr. Vithounlabandish Thommabout, the Deputy Director General at the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines. “We’re working closely with the developer and its international engineering teams to further improve the design and mitigation measures following the feasibility stage.”
Dr. Saynakhone Inthavong, the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said “the Lao government highly appreciates the comments from all stakeholders under this prior consultation process and is continually committed to addressing legitimate concerns.”
The prior consultation process on the Luang Prabang project officially began on 8 October 2019 and will continue until April 2020. By that time, the Joint Committee Working Group, a technical advisory body of the MRC, will deliberate recommendations to be submitted to the MRC Joint Committee for decision in concluding the six-month process.
Dr. An Pich Hatda, the MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer, said these stakeholders’ concerns and recommendations gathered during this six-month process would be formally recorded and reflected in the technical assessments of the proposed project, known as the MRC technical review report.
“We hope the Joint Committee will issue a decision in the form of Statement at the end of the six-month process. This Statement will call on the Lao government to make every effort to implement the identified measures to avoid, minimise and mitigate potential adverse transboundary impacts,” he said.
On the second day, the forum also discussed the draft Basin Development Strategy for 2021-2030, a 10-year strategic direction for development planning within the region in optimizing Member Countries’ development plans while minimizing the risks and effects to the environment.
The forum said the strategy was ambitious. But they considered it proactive in tackling the real basin-wide issues. Among many recommendations they made, increasing stakeholder engagement, strengthening cooperation among the four MRC Member Countries, and increasing an open and transparent sharing of information took the stage.
The strategy is expected to be ready mid this year after going through several rounds of regional and national consultations.
Note to editors:
The MRC is an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin, established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The organization serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region.
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