With the Mekong River Commission (MRC) holding an international conference on “transboundary river basin management” at the Mövenpick Resort in Karon from today until Thursday, the TPMP saw a chance to confront senior figures in the Thai government to call for them to pay more attention to the sustainable exploitation of the Mekong.
The Xayaburi Dam project on the Mekong river in Laos, currently under construction, is aimed at giving the impoverished country an income from electricity generation.
If completed, the dam, 810 metres long and 32 metres high, would be capable of producing 1,260 megawatts of electricity. Ninety per cent of that would be sold to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).
The Xayaburi Dam is the first of 12 hydroelectric projects proposed for the Mekong River and its tributaries under a blanket vision of the river becoming “the battery of South East Asia”.
On April 17, a Thailand-based company, Chor Karnchang, signed a B51-billion contract with a Laotian company Xayaburi Power to build the dam.
Construction began in March, sparking outrage from the TPMP because the project’s environmental impact assessment has yet to be completed.
Niwat Roykeaw, a leader of the TPMP, explained that the project would have a major effect on the ecology and local communities downstream, in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
According to eco-campaigning organisation International Rivers, the dam, when complete, will result in the forcible resettlement of more than 2,100 people, directly affect the livelihoods of more than 200,000 others, and bring permanent ecological change to the river, which feeds millions of people.
Mr Niwat added that the start of construction breached the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), which states that the nations along the Mekong River must consult the MRC before building a mega project on the river.
“The governments of four nations [along the Mekong] and the MRC must get serious about the PNPCA,” said Mr Niwat. “This project will bring conflict between nations.”
However, the CEO of the MRC, Hans Guttman, told media that although the MRC acts as a coordinator among Mekong nations, it has no power to make decisions on the dam.
The Lao government is preparing for construction of the dam, he added, but has not yet decided absolutely whether to go ahead.
“The decision depends on the Lao government,” said Mr Guttman.
The TPMP said it will watch the MRC’s reactions to events in Laos “for a period of time”.
If no “action” is taken, a TPMP spokesman said, the group will up the stakes with a blockade of the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, which spans the river between Nong Khai and Vientiane.