By The Nation
Nearly 200 representatives from different interest groups have attended the two-day Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) regional stakeholder forum to discuss updates on the proposed Pak Beng hydropower project.
They also provided views on a study looking at the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River.
The dam will be the third one located at lower Mekong in Laos, and is being opposed by some environmental groups.
The groups also called for meaningful river management reform and a basin-wide well-rounded study.
MRC chief executive Pham Tuan Phan said at the opening of the forum yesterday in Luang Prabang, Laos that the commission was trying its best to support Mekong countries.
He insisted it was meeting the needs for country development, while balancing interests and needs in ensuring the sustainable development and management of the Mekong basin.
It is committed to stakeholder engagement as a continuous and step by step process, he added.
In May, another forum will be held to hear the outcomes of a six-month consultation process.
In addition to the two forums, there have been several meetings and consultations at both national and regional level.
Stakeholder inputs will be gathered in a stakeholder consultations report that will be considered during the evaluation of the project.
Then the report will be handed to the MRC’s governance bodies for consideration during a negotiation on the conditions for the project, the forum was told.
The Council Study is a comprehensive study of not only the impact of mainstream hydropower projects but also on the effects of climate change, floods, drought and other infrastructure development projects such as water diversion, navigation and sand mining, the forum was told.
Environmentalists opposing the dam project, including International Rivers, said the initiation of the prior consultation action for the Pak Beng dam was premature as it ignored important lessons from previous regional consultation processes including that of the Xayaburi dam, the first on the Lower Mekong in Laos.
They said the lessons included the need for comprehensive project studies and sufficient time to enable meaningful evaluation of both the potential costs and benefits of projects by Mekong countries and their peoples.
“The haste to advance the Pak Beng dam prior consultation process just further undermines the integrity of efforts to equitably and sustainably manage the Mekong basin for the benefit of all who live along the River,” International Rivers said.
It called on the MRC to help ensure that its review of the project, as well as the impact on the mainstream river by other projects, would include weaknesses and deficiencies already identified, before any further projects moved forward.