Laws lie at the heart of dam conflicts, says new book

Academics and NGOs in the Mekong region welcome a new book that sheds light on the significance of the evolution of legal frameworks in overpowering historical social dynamics of river communities to sustain their livelihoods and culture.

Exploring conflicts surrounding hydropower development in the Lower Mekong region the authors of The Mekong: a Socio-Legal Approach to River Basin illustrate the growing barriers laws and policies that were never a part of these communities’ cultures, and which they had no role in shaping, lie at the heart of controversy surround dam projects from the moment that are proposed.

Forecast Stormy for Mekong, Commission Says

With the threat of climate change, a long-lasting drought, and contentious dam construction in Laos, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has its work cut out for the rest of the year. Composed of delegates from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, the MRC is in charge of managing the river that provides livelihoods and power for much of Southeast Asia. Several delegates said yesterday that the organization will face challenges in the years ahead.

“Water remains as important as ever,” said General Surasak Karnjanarat, the head of the MRC’s delegation from Thailand. “It needs to be recognized as key to various development goals…but the situation has become more complex due to a number of challenges we are facing.”

At the Borders of Ecological Destruction

A new year is often a time for joyful celebration. But Pianporn Deetes bid farewell to 2015 with a heavy heart.

“The Administrative Court gave me the most cruel Christmas ever. My spirit was dampened throughout the New Year period,” she said.

Pianporn is remembering her experience listening to the ruling on the Xayaburi Dam on Dec 25. The lawsuit — in which 37 villagers from eight provinces in Thailand affected by the project sued the Energy Ministry and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand for allegedly signing a power purchase agreement illegally — is a landmark case since it was the first time people have gone to court for environmental and community rights protection from a transborder project championed by the Asean Economic Community (AEC). The dam is now being constructed, with investment from Thailand, on the Mekong River in Laos. When finished, over 90% of electricity from the dam will be sold to Thailand.

Administrative court rules in favour of Egat over Xayaburi Dam

THE Administrative Court Friday dismissed complaints over the Xayaburi Dam against five state agencies. However, the 37 plaintiffs, from eight Mekong provinces, say they will appeal further.

The judge, who read the verdict, said the defendants had fully complied with their obligation according to the law, so the case was dismissed.

PARTNERSHIP IN ACTION Regional governments and civil society journey toward improving public participation

The 25 members represent governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across the region. They have tasked themselves with drafting public participation guidelines to ensure communities and citizens have input into development projects such as dams, mines, transportation links or economic zones. Through drafting a regional standard on participation in EIA, the group hopes countries across the region will improve public involvement in the decision-making process.

Getting 10 civil society organisations, five governments and an array of ministries to agree on one set of guidelines will be hard. But the members are up for the challenge. They have a lot to teach each other. And are eager to learn from experiences in other countries and sectors.

We talked to a few members of the RTWG during their first official meeting in Bangkok in September to see how they felt about this challenging but exciting opportunity. Their video interviews are below.

My country, Thailand, hosted this kick-off meeting, and two of Thailand’s five members are Mr. Suphakij Nuntavorakarn, Healthy Public Policy Foundation and Ms. Chanakod Chasidpon, Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) of the Thai government.

Ecological trade-offs

Hydroelectric dams grace bank notes in developing countries, from Mozambique to Laos, Kyrgyzstan to Sri Lanka, a place of honor reflecting their reputation as harbingers of prosperity. That esteem, now enhanced by hydropower’s presumed low-carbon profile, continues to overrule concerns about environmental consequences and displaced people, as evidenced by a surge in dam-building in the developing world.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests a seemingly obvious, yet novel approach: Bring in aquatic scientists at the beginning so that engineers can consider ecological principles first, not last. The paper came out of meetings organised by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013. Engineers and aquatic scientists discussed their core requirements for a hypothetical case study of the Iowa River in the United States.

Report: Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts of Hydropower Development in the Lower Mekong Basin

The Mekong River is the largest freshwater fishery in the world (estimated fish catch 2.1 to 2.5 million tons/year) and the third most bio-diverse river system (with approximately 800 fish species) after the Amazon and the Congo. However, this would change drastically if all proposed hydropower projects are constructed as fish migration routes would be blocked.

This paper focuses on potential economic consequences and is based on the Costanza report which in turn used much of the data, assumptions and projections reported in BDP2 and SEA. The main differences between the Costanza report and BDP2 were the estimated fish value, valuation of ecosystem services and discount rates for natural capital such as capture fisheries and wetlands.

South Korea and Laos agree to work on hydropower project

South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn and his Lao counterpart, Thongsing Thammavong, agreed Monday to work closely on a hydro-power project in the Southeast Asian country, a South Korean official said.

The two sides had planned to sign a deal on the development of Sepon III hydro-power plant at their meeting, though they failed to ink the deal due to differences.

The two sides remain at odds over which country will build a road leading up to the power plant, among other things.