Cambodian Activists Want Laos Dam on US-ASEAN Agenda

Civil society groups are calling for Laos’ Don Sahong hydropower dam project to be discussed when Southeast Asian leaders meet with President Barack Obama next week at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California.

The unprecedented U.S.-hosted ASEAN summit comes amid increased efforts by the Obama administration to increase its security and economic presence in the region, where it wants to balance the influence of a rising China.

Nongovernmental organizations expressed this hope to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on his visit to Cambodia last month.

Of immediate concern for environmental leaders is the plan to construct the 260-megawatt Don Sahong facility at a site in southern Laos, just 1.5 kilometers from the Cambodian border. The governments  of  both  Cambodia  and  Vietnam  have  raised  concerns  about  the  potential  impacts downstream, where millions of people rely on the Mekong’s fish for protein.

Laos already is constructing the Xayaburi dam along the main body of the Mekong River, where it has proposed another 10 dams. Laos has pushed ahead with the hydropower projects, despite opposition from the downstream countries.

U.S.-funded initiative

While official protests have been lodged through the Mekong River Commission, a multilateral body formed out of a 1995 agreement among Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, another multilateral mechanism might hold more hope for an effective intervention over Laos’ hydropower plans.

Founded in 2009, the U.S.-funded Lower Mekong Initiative targets improved cooperation among the countries of the subregion, while promoting environmental conservation of Mekong River wildlife and clean water.

10/02 – Phorn Bopha – (extrait)