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Dialogue Needed On Mekong Dam Project

Locals manoeuvre their small vessels along the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, November 7, 2012.

Laos’s neighbors and the international community are again voicing concerns about hydroelectric project.

Laos’s neighbors and the international community are again voicing concerns about the construction of a multibillion dollar hydroelectric project they fear could disrupt the lives of millions of people living along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Dialogue Needed On Mekong Dam Project
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Vietnam and Cambodia, both downstream from the proposed dam near Xayaburi in north central Laos, complain that the Laotian government has failed to consult them sufficiently on the project and the dam’s environmental and social impacts are as yet unknown.

The dam, one in a series of hydroelectric projects planned for the Mekong, will be jointly owned by Laos and a Thailand-based construction company that will build and then operate it. Ninety-five percent of the electricity to be generated will be sent to Thailand. In December 2011, members of the Mekong River Commission agreed to assess the environmental impacts of construction throughout the region, but last November Laos signaled the start of dam construction with a formal groundbreaking at the site.

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia share the lower stretches of the 4,000-kilometer Mekong, which provides livelihoods and food for tens of millions of people in the river basin. A change in the river’s flows could jeopardize this ecosystem, the dam’s critics say.

The United States recognizes the important role that dams can play in managing water resources to advance economic growth. At the same time, though, our own experience within the U.S. has made us acutely aware of the economic, social and environmental impacts that large infrastructure projects can have over the long-term.

It is not for the United States to decide what dams should or should not be built. It is clear, however, that building dams on the mainstream of the Mekong may have profound and irrevocable impacts on the river and on the lives of millions of people who depend upon it. These decisions must be taken deliberatively with the full engagement of all the affected stakeholders.

The United States urges all parties to pause on any consideration of future hydropower dam projects on the Mekong until a sound assessment of their impact on communities, environment and challenges to food security are addressed.

We strongly encourage nations in the region to continue to work through the Mekong River Commission to ensure that the best science can help inform these decisions. If the process is sound, we believe the Mekong basin countries will make the right decision for the benefit of the region’s people.