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Environment

Xayaburi dam project proceeds as protest grows

In Laos, the construction of controversial hydroelectric dam in Xayaburi province is under way, despite disagreement from its neighbors, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Xayaburi dam project started when the Laotian government and Thailand's giant construction company, Ch Karnchang Pcl, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2007. However, scientists, activists and two other countries, Cambodia and Vietnam oppose the construction. They claimed that the hydroelectric dam would directly affect hundreds of thousands of people, disconnect the ecosystem, contribute to the extinction of endangered fish species and block the nutrient-rich sediment for Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Empty promise

Thai villagers hold banners reading 'Love Mekong, No Dam' during a demonstration

Dam projects have displaced thousands of people

After Cambodia and Vietnam voiced concerns about the project, Laos agreed in December to postpone construction and in July it claimed it would completely stop construction of the dam. However, the construction company told the media that they had not received any formal letter from the Laotian government about the suspension of the project.

"We are still working on the project," Plew Trivisvavet, CEO of Ch Karnchang Pcl, told the media. He added that their group had entered the areas of relocation work and prepared for the construction of the reservoir which is planned to kick off late this year.

The project is located along the Mekong River, around 30 kilometers from Laos's Xayaburi provincial town. Its costs are projected at 3.5 billion US dollars and it would provide 1,285 megawatts of power, of which Thailand wants to buy 95 percent when the project is completed in 2019.

Mekong, the 12th world longest river, is 4,350 kilometers long, flowing from the Tibetan plateau through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China has already built four dams along the river.

Protest

The committee from Cambodia is to check the dam construction at the end of this year. Lim Kean Hor, head of Cambodia's Mekong River Commission told America-funded VOA on Saturday that the committee wanted to see clearly what "Laos is doing up there."

Cambodian fishing boats on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Up to 41 endangered species of fish could be affected

At the beginning of August, a group of fifty villagers filed a complaint to a Thai court at the protesting their country's electricity consumption from the long-disputed project, according to a report by Reuters news agency.

"The river is our life," a 52-year-old Niwat Roykaew, who lives alongside the Mekong River, told the agency. He added that the dam project would affect his life and the people who rely on the river for water and fish in the northern Thailand's Chiang Rai province.

In Finland, civil society groups have submitted a complaint against the Finnish consulting and engineering company Pöyry in June, NGO International River reports. The groups claimed that Pöyry was involved in "ethical misconduct" in the Mekong region. However, Pöyry, who has been hired by Laotian government to evaluate the Xayaburi dam project, denied the accusation.

If the Xayaburi project is successful, it would affect millions of people in the Mekong Lower Basin, three-fourth of the total Mekong area. It is also believed that it would pave the way for the 10 other dams planned to be constructed along the river.

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