WWF Will Not Participate in Don Sahong Dam Consultation, Citing Failed Process
Conservation Group says Lao dam will proceed regardless of meeting outcome, threatening livelihoods and Irrawaddy dolphins
WWF will not participate in the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) regional public consultation on Dec. 12 in the Lao PDR due to a failed process that has ignored evidence of the dam’s potentially serious impacts on Cambodian communities, food security and critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin populations.
The 260 megawatt Don Sahong dam is one of 12 hydropower projects currently being planned for the lower stretches of the Mekong River. It will be built by Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB) about one kilometer from the Lao-Cambodian border in Champassak Province, Lao PDR. The dam will block the Hou Sahong channel, the only channel available for dry-season fish migrations on the Mekong River, putting the world’s largest inland fishery at risk.
The dam builders intend to excavate millions of tons of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could potentially kill dolphins located only two miles away. These dolphins have highly sensitive hearing structures. In addition, increased boat traffic, changes in water quality and habitat degradation are likely if the project proceeds. In September more than a quarter million people signed a petition asking Mega First to suspend construction of the dam.
WWF is concerned that the Don Sahong dam will follow the precedent of another dam in Laos, the Xayaburi Hydropower Project. Currently, Xayaburi is the only Mekong mainstream dam that has entered into a Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNCPA) process. In that instance, the four countries failed to reach consensus, yet the project is moving ahead rapidly against the advice of downstream countries that will be severely impacted.
“Given that there is no clear indication from the MRC of the scope and expected outcome of the consultation process, and that all indications point to the dam being constructed anyway, we see limited benefit to participating in this consultation,” said Teak Seng, WWF-Greater Mekong Conservation Director. “Doing so would place a seal of approval on a failed process that could prove disastrous to food security, livelihoods and one of the world’s last remaining populations of Irrawaddy dolphins.”
Two of the key arguments against the dam are:
- The mitigation measures that Mega First claims to have developed have not been tested nor proven to work. Critically, the fish bypass is simply mentioned but not justified by previous success cases or demonstrations that it can work in the context of the Don Sahong dam. This should be a requirement in the prior consultation;
- There is a lack of independent, science-based and trans-boundary social and environmental impact assessments (SEIA) for the Don Sahong dam. Currently, the only Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was commissioned by Mega First. The mitigation measures in the report were assessed by three international fish passage experts at the request of NGOs. They concluded that the studies are not up to international standards, and that fish passage solutions have not been demonstrated;
- Agree that all Lower Mekong countries will follow the procedures of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, and strictly respect their implementation;
- Enforce immediate suspension of construction for the Don Sahong dam until all project documents and further assessments on impact studies have satisfied the concerns of all stakeholders, including MRC governments, civil society and local communities of the Lower Mekong region;
- Reach agreement between the MRC and member governments to clearly identify the objectives and criteria for PNPCA before the consultation begins;
- Conduct a separate, independent and trans-boundary EIA, with greater focus given to trans-boundary fisheries impacts and impact on dolphins in deep pools below the dam;
- Agree that the Prior Consultation process should not conclude until additional trans-boundary impact assessments are completed (including a “council study" from MRC and a "Delta Study” from the Government of Vietnam);
- Consider existing alternative options such as the Thako Water Diversion Project that has far lesser impact than the Don Sahong project and can yield about the same amount of electricity.
“The countries of the Mekong have a clear challenge ahead of them – restore the credibility of MRC processes and respect internationally accepted dam development standards, or leave the fate of the river in the hands of irresponsible corporates,” said Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong Sustainable Hydropower and River Basin Management Lead. “To ignore this risks irreversible damage to the region’s food security and the probable extinction of an entire population of river dolphins.”