Last update 4/19/2011 5:35:08 PM (GMT+7)

Vietnam worries about impacts from Laos hydroelectric project

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnamese scientists worried that the controversial Xayabury hydro-power project in Laos will make harmful impacts on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

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Vietnamese scientists grouped up in a talk entitled “Xayaburi and Mekong River’s water source”, held by the Vietnam Union of Scientific and Technological Associations (VUSTA) on April 18, one day before the Mekong River Commission (MRC) issues its decision on the construction of Xayaburi dam in Laos.

Xayaburi project, located in northern Laos, is the first of the 12 hydro-power plants that are scheduled on the major flow of the Mekong River. The big river runs from China through four downstream countries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Ho Uy Liem, VUSTA Vice Chair, said that the construction of Xayaburi will harm Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, which is the home to nearly 20 million people and supplies around 50 percent of rice output, over 70 percent of seafood and 70 percent of fruit output of Vietnam.

“If this dam is built, it will directly affect the lives of people, threat food security of Vietnam and the region,” Liem stressed.

Dao Trong Tu, former Secretary General of the Vietnam River Network (VRN) confirmed: “If the Xayaburi dam is built, it will be the first cannon shot for the construction of other dams on the entire major flow to the Mekong River’s downstream”.

Mr. Tu also emphasized that the building of Xayaburi and the 11 others on the major flow of the Mekong River’s downstream area will not benefit the Mekong Delta at all.

The report of MRC also said that the benefit for Vietnam from the Xayaburi project is very small compared to losses that the country will suffer.

Tu analyzed that this plant will be ran in the form of BOT (build-operation-transfer) in 25-30 years by private or foreign investors, so Laos will earn a small part from the expected $2.6 billion of annual revenues (around $676-806 million) from this project. During that time this country will bear high risks.

According to designs, Xayaburi and 11 remaining dams on the Mekong River’s main stream will only serve power generation. They will not function as flood control.

Tu said “that if Xayaburi is built, 55 percent of the length of the Mekong River’s main stream will become a reservoir, which will destroy the river’s living environment and ecological system.”

Specifically, 50 percent of the alluvial volume of Mekong River (around 165 million tons/year) will be kept by China’s reservoirs, and 25 percent kept by downstream reservoirs. Around 2.3 to 2.8 million hectares of agricultural land, mainly in Vietnam and Cambodia, will be affected. The volume of alluvial to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta will reduce from the current level of 26 million tons/year to 7 tons/year.

According to a research work by Nguyen Huu Thien, an expert from WWF Vietnam, the Mekong Delta will lose from 220,000 to 440,000 tons of migrant fish a year, equivalent to $0.5-1 billion.

Scientists from VRN said that there are many alternate energy solutions to meet economic development, instead of developing hydro-power plants on the main stream of the Mekong River.

At the talk, P’Eang, co-director of the Thailand-based Terra Ecological Restoration Foundation, said that many Thai scientists, organizations and residents strongly protested the Xayaburi project. On April 17, 100 Thais who live along the Mekong River stood in front of the Laos Embassy to oppose this project.

Ame from the International River Organization said that environmental impact assessment reports show that Laos doesn’t need to build the Xayaburi plant, because this project threatens the seafood output in the river, which is the source of living of dozens of millions of people.

The same day, the spokesperson of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, Nguyen Phuong Nga, spoke out Vietnam’s viewpoint on the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River, including the Xayaburi.

“The Mekong River is an international river which is of great significance for the socio-economic development and the spiritual and cultural life of people living along the riverbanks,” she said.

According to the Bangkok Post, Laos has been preparing for the construction of the Xayaburi dam for five months.

“As a nation lying along the Mekong River, Vietnam wants related nations to closely coordinate in making a thorough overall study of hydropower project impacts on the main current of the Mekong River, before making any decision on building these works.

“Countries along the banks of the river should closely cooperate equally and rationally in exploiting and using resources, particularly water resources, so as to protect the ecological environment; thus, contributing to the common sustainable development of the entire Mekong basin, and benefitting all nations and people living in the region,” she added.

According to the Bangkok Post, Laos has been preparing for the construction of the Xayaburi dam for five months.

Today, April 19, the Mekong River Commission will meet in Laos to make the final decision on the construction of the Xayaburi after six months of consultation. However, the commission’s decision is only for reference. Observers say that if the commission’s decision doesn’t satisfy Laos and investors, the case would be brought to an international committee, which has never happened so far.

Since 1995, member countries of the MRC agreed that any country that wants to build dams on the Mekong River must have consultation with related countries.