A man sits on the bank of the Mekong river in Vientiane,
Laos. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
The Laos government has approved the construction of the
$US3.5 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River despite
objections from environmentalists, a senior official says.
"We will have a ground-breaking ceremony in Xayaburi on
Wednesday," Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of Energy and
Mines, told dpa.
The ceremony will mark the beginning of work in the river
bed, with construction on access roads and facilities already
The hydroelectric project is to be the first run-of-river dam
to be built on the lower Mekong. Four dams have already been
built on the upper Mekong in China.
The project has been criticized by environmentalists,
neighbouring countries and downstream riverside communities
for its possible impact on the flow of sediments and fish
An organization called the Network of Thai People in Eight
Mekong Provinces on Monday held a flotilla protest of 45
boats on the Thai side of the river in Nong Khai, across from
Vientiane, which is currently hosting the Asia-Europe Meeting
that has drawn about 50 Asian and European leaders to the
"We want the visiting leaders to become aware of the Xayaburi
dam project and the impact it is going to have on people
living downstream," the network's spokeswoman Pianporn Deetes
"We've already seen a negative impact from the Chinese dams
on the upper Mekong in terms of greater fluctuations in the
river's flow," she said.
There are 10 more dams planned on the lower Mekong,
South-East Asia's longest river and one of the of the world's
richest sources of fish, worth an estimated $2 billion per
In December, members of the Mekong River Commission's
council, consisting of water and environment ministers from
Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, urged a delay to allow
further environmental research.
In response, the Lao government and its chief partner in the
project, Thailand's Ch Karnchang Public Co Ltd, agreed to
spend an additional 100 million dollars to revamp the design
of a fish ladder and sediment flow gates.
The recommendations were made by project consultants Poyry of
Finland and the French Compagnie Nationale du Rhone and
incorporated into a new design of the project.
"They have no more serious complaints on the redesign of the
dam," Viraphonh said of Laos' neighbours. "The Lao government
is confident that with all these changes there will be no
serious environmental impact, and that's why we've decided to
Laos, a mountainous, land-locked country that ranks among the
world's poorest nations, has abundant hydropower which the
government hopes to export to its neighbours as an engine of
The country already has 13 hydroelectric plants in operation
with a total capacity for 3,000 megawatts.
The Xayaburi project, to be operational by 2019, will be one
of its largest, with more than 90 per cent of its electricity
to be exported to neighbouring Thailand.
"Xayaburi is a very good project," Viraphonh said. "The
financing is there and if we don't go ahead what are we
expected to do? Solar farming? It's too expensive."