Travel Daily News
By Luc Citrinot
June 29, 2012
NGO International Rivers reported in its yesterday edition that controversial construction work goes unabated along the Mekong River with possible irremediable damage for the environment and the ecosystem. And this time the blame is put on Thailand and not on China. The latter is already in the midst of polemics due to a dam construction in the Upper Mekong mainstream which already causes serious environmental problems on downstream Myanmar, northern Thailand and northern Lao. Declining fish stocks and unpredictable water levels made already life more difficult for downstream communities, pointing towards the damage that mainstream dams will inflict.
Now, International Rivers’ recent investigations at Xayaburi Dam site in Laos points out that Thai company Ch. Karnchang already started significant resettlement and construction activities, contrary to official statement that claims “only” preliminary work is underway.
Despite Ch. Karnchang’s recent statements that it will comply with the Lao government’s commitment to postpone construction until there is regional agreement, International Rivers found construction activities going on during a visit on June 21 to the dam site and to 15 affected villages. Recent activities include dredging to deepen and widen the riverbed at the dam site, the construction of a large concrete retaining wall, and an increase in the company’s local labor force. One village, Houay Souy, was already resettled from the dam’s planned spillway to near Xayaboury town in January 2012.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said, “By proceeding with resettlement and construction on the Xayaburi Dam, Ch. Karnchang has blatantly defied the diplomatic process underway to decide on the future of the Mekong River. The company has violated the trust of the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, with apparent impunity.”
On June 2, Mr. Aswin Kongsiri, Chairperson of the Ch. Karnchang Board of Directors told the Bangkok Post that “the Lao government will ultimately make the final decision on whether the project will go ahead, but we want to wait for all stakeholders in the Greater Mekong Sub-region to agree with it.” Mr. Aswin indicated that the company had not yet started construction, stating “we have thus focused on project preparation, mainly financing and the environmental impact report.” These claims came weeks after the Lao government publicly announced that dam construction had been postponed and only “preliminary construction” such as building access roads had taken place.
“So far, Ch Karnchang claims that they are only going forward with ‘preliminary construction’ on the project, but the definition of ‘preliminary’ keeps expanding,” said Kirk Herbertson, Mekong Campaigner for International Rivers. “Ripping up the riverbed and resettling entire villages cannot be considered a preliminary activity.”
Interviews with resettled families from Houay Souy revealed a series of broken promises made by the Thai firm. Resettled households have yet to receive new agricultural land and have been required to spend much of their own compensation money to finish building the houses that were provided to them. Ch. Karnchang also reneged on a promise to provide one year of free electricity and water. The company has informed other villages that they will be moved as soon as December 2012, but said they will not provide compensation to the villagers for the loss of resources such as fisheries or agricultural land, gold panning and consequently for the loss of income. This would then come in complete violation with the Laotian Low.
Teerapong Pomun, Director of Thai NGO Living River Siam, who joined the trip to the dam site, declared that “the Xayaburi Dam is causing harm to local people and the environment. Ch. Karnchang needs to be held accountable for its irresponsible and illegal behavior. It’s only a matter of time before the damage to the river’s ecosystem and fisheries begins to impact downstream countries like Thailand, something the company has failed to even take into account.”
On June 28-29, Governments of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) are meeting with development partners in Vientiane, Laos. The issue of the Mekong mainstream dams is expected to be on the agenda. “Ch. Karnchang’s ongoing construction activities are creating conflict among the Mekong countries,” said Mr. Herbertson. “No construction should be allowed that places future cooperation along the Mekong River in jeopardy. It’s time for the Thai and Lao governments to hold firm to their commitments and require Ch. Karnchang to respect the diplomatic process.”
Cambodian daily “Phnom Penh Post” mentioned about Cambodia’s rising concerns. Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, explained to the newspaper that if photos provided by International Rivers were genuine, the construction was a breach of agreements to halt construction until downstream impacts had been examined. “In April, we sent a letter to them already asking them to stop construction, so we are surprised at seeing these photos. It is not in line with what we agreed,” he said.
Money plays naturally a prominent role in breaching laws and Thailand seems to be at the front of it. The Xayaburi Dam is being financed by Thai commercial banks as an estimated 95% of the dam’s electricity would be sold to Thailand. In July, communities from eight Thai provinces along the Mekong River are expected to bring a lawsuit against the Thai government for signing an agreement to purchase the dam’s electricity in violation of their constitutional rights.
Since 1985, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them. The NGO works with an international network of dam-affected people, grassroots organizations, environmentalists, human rights advocates and others who are committed to stopping destructive river projects and promoting better options.