THE WATER Resources Department has admitted it is beyond the Thai government’s power to challenge the Pak Beng Dam project in Laos and the only way to review the project is through the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)’s sub-committee on community rights has arranged a meeting on Friday focusing on human rights violations regarding the upcoming hydropower dam projects on the Mekong and Salween rivers.
People who are concerned about transboundary impacts of the dams and relevant agencies are invited to submit information to the sub committee.
Phadon Thavornkritrat, Water Resources Department deputy director-general, said the only means to regulate projects on the mainstream Mekong River was through the MRC but Laos still has not notified the commission about its intention to begin work on the Pak Beng Dam.
“There are worries that the Pak Beng Dam construction will begin soon, [but] currently the first step to start the project has not yet begun because building such a project on the mainstream Mekong River requires consideration through the Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement [PNPCA] first,” Phadon said.
The PNPCA is the notification process specified by the MRC process.
“The Thai government has no authority to protest a dam built inside Laos’s territory. We cannot express our concern about their project now, because they still have not notified their intention to start the project to the MRC.”
However, people from Chiang Rai have protested limiting action to only the PNPCA procedure and urged for strict new rules to regulate projects on the mainstream Mekong River.
“We do not trust the MRC anymore. We need a new mechanism that can thoroughly inspect projects and have the power to stop harmful [ones]. The PNPCA procedure is just a stamp to approve the projects. It cannot really protect our international river from harmful development,” Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group chairman Niwat Roikaew said. He added that project owners should have to pay compensation for damage caused by projects but in reality dam projects are underway across the Lower Mekong Region at an unstoppable rate making it impossible to find out which dams caused damage and who should be compensated.
“The damage from the dams to river ecology is irreversible and the livelihood of people will be destroyed forever if we do nothing to stop those dams,” he said.
In response, Phadon said the MRC was the only entity that could provide a stage for four countries in the Lower Mekong Basin to discuss development projects on the river. Without the MRC and PNPCA procedures, Laos would continue with dam projects without consultation with affected countries, he said.
“This is all about foreign affairs and we have to treat it with extra care,” he said. “We have to understand that the issues concerning international relationships are very sensitive and we have to admit that we cannot make things go the way we want all the time.”
Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Sretthachau said authorities were often not interested in protecting the Mekong River and marginalised people who depend on the river. He suggested Thai representatives to the MRC should include someone from the Mekong River region, not only bureaucrats from Bangkok.
Thongsuk Inthawong, village head of Ban Huai Leuk in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Kaen, said the dam’s threat to the village, which is situated close to the dam site, included a risk of flooding and ecological devastation that would badly hurt residents who depend on the river for fishing and farming.
Thongsuk said not only people on the Thailand side would suffer from the dam, as at least 14 villages in Laos would also be affected. He added that there had been evictions in some villages already in preparation for construction, which has already begun.
Pak Beng Dam is a hydropower dam project owned by the Chinese firm Datang International Power Generation Co in cooperation with the Lao government. The site of the dam is in Pakbaeng district in Oudomxay province, 80 kilometres downstream from Ban Huai Leuk.
The dam will have a generating capacity of 912 megawatts and is scheduled to start next year.