Gambling With The Mekong River - The History Of The Xayaburi Dam

The Mekong River is a lifeline and support system to communities throughout Southeast Asia. It is home to the world's largest inland fishery and supports a level of biodiversity second only to the Amazon. Originating in Tibet, the mighty Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The revival of plans in 1994, to build a cascade of dams on the Lower Mekong River's mainstream in Laos and Cambodia, poses a serious threat to the river's ecology and risks the lives and livelihoods of millions of people dependent on the river for food, income, transportation, culture and identity. The Xayaburi Dam, the first in the cascade of eleven dams planned on the Lower Mekong mainstream, was proposed by the Lao government for development in September 2010. The 1, 285 MW project is located in the mountainous Xayaboury Province in Northern Laos and is expected to unleash immense impacts that will cause irreversible and permanent ecological change to the Mekong River that feeds millions of people and could push iconic and endangered fish species, such as the Mekong Giant Catfish, to extinction.

Construction on the Xayaburi Dam began in late 2010 despite a lack of agreement between all four lower Mekong countries and failure of the regional consultation process, under the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The project is being built by Ch. Karnchang, one of Thailand’s largest construction companies. It is being financed by six Thai commercial banks and Thailand’s electricity utility, EGAT, has agreed to purchase 95% of the dam’s electricity. Energy experts in Thailand have concluded that Thailand does not need the dam’s electricity to meet its growing energy demand. However, the dam is expected to bring enormous profits to these companies and the Lao Government. The Xayaburi Dam will irreversibly alter the complex and rich ecosystem of the Mekong River with severe consequences to food and livelihood security throughout the region. The project has progressed amid strong criticism from downstream governments in Cambodia and Vietnam, along with local riparian communities and concerned citizen throughout the region. As the first dam under construction on the lower Mekong mainstream, the project sets a dangerous precedent for the future of dam-building on the Mekong River.

1950-01-01 00:00:00

Plans to Build Dams On Lower Mekong Mainstream First Proposed

Several mega-schemes to build dams on the lower Mekong River's mainstream were first proposed in the 1950s. Over the next few decades these plans were revived in different forms, but war and instability within the Mekong region made the proposals impossible.

1994-01-01 00:00:00

Revival of Plans for Dams on Lower Mekong Mainstream

The Mekong Secretariat revived plans to build dams on the Mekong mainstream in 1994. However these plans were shelved due to strong public opposition.

1995-04-01 00:00:00

1995 Mekong Agreement Signed

The Governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam signed an Agreement on the Cooperation For the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin, known as the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The Mekong River Commission was established as the institutional mechanism within the Mekong Agreement. Under the Agreement's Procedures, projects located on the mainstream of the Mekong River are expected to undergo a six month regional decision-making process called Prior Consultation.

2007-05-04 00:00:00

MoU for Xayaburi Dam is Signed

Plans to build the Xayaburi Dam - the first dam on the Lower Mekong mainstream, advance with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Laos and the project’s lead developer, Thailand’s Ch. Karnchang Company, to study and develop the project.

2008-09-01 00:00:00

Experts Warn Of Mekong Dam's Threat to Fisheries

The MRC convenes a stakeholder consultation on the Mekong mainstream dams and fishery mitigation techniques amongst 14 of the world's top fishery experts.The experts conclude that no fish passage technology exists that can handle Mekong River fish migration due to the large diversity of species and large number of fish migrating at any time of the year.

2009-05-01 00:00:00

Strategic Environmental Assessment of Mainstream Dams Commissioned By MRC

The MRC commissions a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEA) of the Lower Mekong Basin, to assess the wider economic, social and environmental implications of proposed hydropower projects. The study was led by the International Center for Environmental Management (ICEM).

2010-03-01 00:00:00

Feasibility Study for Xayaburi Dam Approved

Thai company, Team Consulting and Swiss company, Colenco complete the Xayaburi Dam’s feasibility study for Ch. Karnchang Company.

2010-06-01 00:00:00

Xayaburi Power Company, Ltd. Is Established

Ch. Karnchang establishes the Xayaburi Power Company Limited as the project company and retains majority ownership. Other companies involved as shareholders include Natee Synergy Company Limited, PTT International Company Limited (PTT), Electricity Generating Public Company Limited (EGCO), P.T. Construction & Irrigation Company Limited.

2010-08-01 00:00:00

Environmental Impact Assessment for the Xayaburi Dam is Approved

The Xayaburi Dam’s environmental and social impact assessments are approved, despite widespread criticism from experts in the region regarding the poor quality of the assessments. Among other concerns, the assessments examined impacts only 10 km downstream from the dam site and no transboundary impact assessment was carried out.

2010-09-20 00:00:00

Lao Government Submits the Xayaburi Dam for Prior Consultation

The Government of Laos submits the Xayaburi Dam for Prior Consultation under the MRC's “Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement” (PNPCA) required by the 1995 Mekong Agreement and facilitated by the Mekong River Commission. Documentation submitted to the MRC and member countries included the feasibility study, environmental and social impact assessments, but no assessment of the dam’s potential transboundary impacts. The Xayaburi Dam was the first lower-Mekong mainstream dam to be submitted for regional consultation, and as such the first test of the PNPCA process.

2010-10-15 00:00:00

Strategic Environmental Assesment Report Published

The MRC Secretariat published the final version of the Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) of the proposed Mekong mainstream dams. The study recommended a 10 year delay on all dam building on the lower Mekong mainstream while further studies are carried out. It also stated that the river should never be used as a "testing ground" for new technologies. The study was never officially endorsed by the MRC, as Laos did not agree with the results.

2010-10-20 00:00:00

The Xayaburi Prior Consultation Process Officially Begins

The MRC begins its first ever Prior Consultation process, formally initiated when the MRC Secretariat provides the Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese governments with Laos’ documentation about the proposed Xayaburi Dam. The consultation process is required by the 1995 Mekong Agreement, and lasts for a period of six-months at which time member countries may request an extension for further studies and assessment.

2010-10-22 00:00:00

World Bank Commits to Not Fund Mekong Mainstream Dams

The World Bank endorses the recommendations of the Strategic Environmental Assessment and confirms it will not invest in any Mekong mainstream dams.

2010-10-29 00:00:00

Concession Agreement for the Xayaburi Dam is Signed

Despite the Prior Consultation process underway, the Lao government and Xayaburi Power Company sign the concession agreement for the Xayaburi Dam.

2010-12-01 00:00:00

Construction Activities Begin at the Xayaburi Dam

According to its 2010 annual report, Ch. Karnchang began implementing the Xayaburi Dam project in late 2010. Despite statements that it would comply with the Lao government’s commitment to postpone construction until there was regional agreement. Construction began despite regional Consultation being ongoing.

2011-01-01 00:00:00

Public Consultations on Xayaburi Dam Are Held

The MRC governments of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam hold limited national consultations over the proposed Xayaburi Dam. Laos does not hold consultations with the Lao public.

2011-02-14 00:00:00

Xayaburi Dam's EIA Made Public Raising Strong Concern

The Xayaburi Dam's EIA is released to the public. International experts raise significant concerns over the quality of the EIA and the lack of transboundary assessment. Civil society organizations raise concerns that these documents should have been provided before, rather than after, the MRC consultation period.

2011-03-18 00:00:00

Australians Express Concern Over Xayaburi Dam Consultation Process

21 international organizations and academics submit a letter to the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs expressing their concern with the Xayaburi Dam and the grievous failure of its PNPCA process. As the process was funded by the Australian Government, the signatories called on Australia and other donors to the MRC to use their leverage to demand an improved process and a delay in decision-making over the future of the Xayaburi Dam.

2011-03-22 00:00:00

263 NGOs Worldwide Call on Mekong Governments to Cancel the Xayaburi Dam

263 non-governmental organizations from 51 countries submitted a letter urging the Prime Ministers of Lao PDR and Thailand to immediately cancel the proposed Xayaburi Dam. The letter is submitted in advance of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) 33rd Joint Committee Meeting, which took place from 25-26 March in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

2011-03-24 00:00:00

The MRC Releases Technical Review of the Xayaburi Dam

The MRC Secretariat releases its independent technical review of the Xayaburi Dam. The study identified significant gaps and concerns in Laos’ documentation and recommendes further collection of baseline data and transboundary impact studies.

2011-04-01 00:00:00

Independent Expert Review of Xayaburi Dam EIA Published

In April 2011, five international Mekong specialists carried out a critical analysis of the Xayaburi Dam Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The experts described the EIA as flawed and substandard. The five specialists in the fields of fisheries, livelihood restoration, consultation and water quality expressed surprise that an EIA of such poor quality was being submitted for a project with such far-reaching impacts as the first dam on the lower Mekong Mainstream. The reviews were submitted to the Mekong River Commission as part of the regional consultation process for the Xayaburi Dam.

2011-04-19 00:00:00

Temporary Reprieve - Mekong Governments Request Extension of PNPCA process

Project delayed: At a special session of the MRC’s Joint Committee in Vientiane, Laos, the four MRC governments “agreed that a decision on the prior consultation process…be tabled for consideration at the ministerial level, as they could not come to a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project.” Cambodia and Vietnam requested a delay in the project, so that further transboundary studies could be carried out.

2011-04-22 00:00:00

Lao Government Disagrees with Neighbors on Xayaburi Dam PNPCA

Following the special session of the MRC Joint Committee, Laos writes to the MRC stating that they believe the PNPCA process to be closed despite no regional agreement between all four governments and ongoing calls from Cambodia and Vietnam for an extension of the PNPCA process.

2011-04-23 00:00:00

The Prime Ministers of Cambodia and Vietnam Express Concerns Over Transboundary Impacts of Xayaburi Dam

The Prime Ministers of Cambodia and Vietnam met bilaterally in Phnom Penh to boost political and economic cooperation for the interests of the two nations. They expressed concern over the Xayaburi Dam’s transboundary impacts and a desire for the four governments and MRC Secretariat to conduct joint studies.

2011-05-05 00:00:00

Laos Hires Pöyry to Study Xayaburi Dam

In April 2011, Cambodia and Vietnam asked Laos to postpone the Xayaburi Dam and study the project's potential transboundary impacts, instead Laos hired Finnish engineering company Pöyry in May 2011, to evaluate the Xayaburi Dam’s compliance with MRC standards for safely building dams on the Mekong River. At the time, Pöyry was also nominated to become the government’s engineer for the project, as well as working jointly with Ch. Karnchang on another hydropower project in Laos, raising questions of conflict of interest.

2011-05-07 00:00:00

Civil Society Calls on ASEAN: Cancel Xayaburi Dam

Prior to the ASEAN summit from 7-8 May 2011 in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Save the Mekong coalition put out a statement calling for ASEAN leaders to act immediately to cancel the Xayaburi Dam. During a side meeting at the ASEAN Summit, the Lao Prime Minister told the Vietnamese Prime Minister that Laos would temporarily suspend the Xayaburi Dam. Both leaders agreed to conduct joint research on the Xayaburi Dam through the MRC framework.

2011-06-08 00:00:00

Laos Gives Ch. Karnchang Green Light to Proceed With Project

Despite the results of the April 2011 MRC meeting, Laos sent a letter to Ch. Karnchang reporting Pöyry’s finding that the MRC prior consultation was finished and the project could move forward.

2011-07-11 00:00:00

U.S. Secretary of State Urges Laos for More Studies on Mekong Dams

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh and shared concern over the impacts of Mekong dams, and called for more studies to be carried out.

2011-08-09 00:00:00

Pöyry Publishes Compliance Report

Pöyry completed its compliance report for the Lao government, in which it concluded that the project is “principally in compliance” with MRC Preliminary Guidance Design standards despite identifying over 40 additional studies that were still needed. Pöyry’s work is Laos’ primary justification for proceeding with the project, despite opposition from neighboring governments. The governments of Cambodia and Vietnam strongly disagreed with the Pöyry report. Despite fierce criticism and disagreement, Pöyry recommended that any additional studies could be conducted after construction was already underway. The MRC Secretariat also published a review of the Poyry report and found that the project would still not comply with the MRC standards even if the dam followed all of the recommendations made by Poyry.

2011-10-29 00:00:00

Thailand Signs Power Purchase Agreement for Xayaburi Dam

On October 5, 2011, the Lao government sent a letter to the Thai Ministry of Energy citing Pöyry’s finding that the MRC Prior Consultation process had finished. As a result, on October 29, 2011, The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), along with four other Thai Government agencies signed an agreement with the Xayaburi Power Company to purchase 95% of the electricity from the Xayaburi Dam. The Cambodian and Vietnamese governments were not notified of this agreement.

2011-11-01 00:00:00

MRC Publishes Review of Pöyry Report

The MRC Secretariat completed a review of Pöyry’s August 2011 report at the request of Vietnam. The review concluded that the Xayaburi Dam would not fully comply with MRC standards even if all of Pöyry’s recommendations were followed. The review also recommended that construction be delayed to allow time for transboundary impact studies to take place. The MRC's review followed reviews of the study by the Cambodian Government, who told The Cambodia Daily that they "strongly disagree with [the study], and Vietnam's leading Mekong experts, who concluded thhat the report was an "unacceptable basis for decision-making on the Xayaburi Dam."

2011-12-01 00:00:00

An Alternative Power Development Plan For Thailand is Published

An Alternative Power Development Plan for Thailand shows that Thailand can meet its future energy needs without any additional hydropower imports, and without additional investments in coal or nuclear energy. The report finds that power from the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River is not needed to meet Thailand’s future energy needs, and that investment in energy efficiency, renewables and co-generation could lower electricity bills for consumers by 12% by 2030 and avoid investment of US$67 billion (2 trillion baht). The report was endorsed by more than 140 Thai civil society groups and was presented to the Thai government in April 2012.

2011-12-08 00:00:00

MRC Agree to Carry Out Study of Cumulative Impacts of Mainstream Dams

The MRC Council, composed of the four governments’ water and environment ministers, agreed to conduct “further study” on the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River, including on the impacts caused by mainstream hydropower development projects. The Council Study as it is known, was first agreed upon at a meeting of the four Mekong Prime Ministers in Japan, where they discussed the principles of the study. While Xayaburi Dam was not discussed at the meeting, Cambodia and later Vietnam indicated that their expectation from the meeting was that the Xayaburi Dam would be delayed while these studies were carried out.

2012-01-01 00:00:00

Laos Hires CNR to Review Pöyry Study

After Cambodia and Vietnam criticized Pöyry‘s work in late 2011, the Lao government hired the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) of France to provide a peer review of Pöyry’s work related to sediments. CNR completed its report on March 30, 2012 and suggested several changes to Pöyry’s sediments work. CNR’s report did not examine Pöyry’s work on fisheries or dam safety. CNR itself acknowledged that the report was only a “desk study” and that further studies were needed. They stated that the concept of a "transparent" dam was only conceptual and needed further study.

2012-01-01 00:00:00

First Village Resettled to Make Way for Xayaburi Dam

Ban Houay Souy village, (now called Ban Na Tor Mai), was the first community to be re-settled to make way for construction of the Xayaburi Dam in January 2012.

2012-02-02 00:00:00

Thai Banks Confirm Financing for Xayaburi Dam

At a Thailand Human Rights Commission hearing, four Thai commercial banks confirmed that they had agreed to finance the Xayaburi Dam. The banks indicated that they had relied solely on Pöyry’s report as evidence that the project was environmentally and socially responsible.The full list of banks financing the project include: Bangkok Bank, Export-Import Bank of Thailand, Kasikorn Bank, Krung Thai Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Tisco Bank.

2012-04-01 00:00:00

Xayaburi Power Company Signs EPC Agreement For Xayaburi Dam

The Nation newspaper reported that Ch Karnchang signed a 51.8 billion bht Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for the dam with the Xayaburi Power Company..

2012-04-24 00:00:00

Thai Villagers Protest Against Xayaburi Developer Ch. Karnchang

Community representatives from villages along the Mekong River inside Thailand protested at Ch. Karnchang's headquarter in Bangkok, demanding the company to halt all construction activities occurring on the Xayaburi Dam.

2012-05-04 00:00:00

Cambodia Urges Laos to Halt the Xayaburi Dam

The Cambodian Minister Lim Kean Hour, Council representative to the MRC sends a letter to his Lao counterpart demanding that construction on the Xayaburi Dam halt.

2012-06-01 00:00:00

OECD Guidelines Complaint Filed Against Pöyry

15 civil society organizations from seven countries file an OECD Specific Instance case against Pöyry to the Finnish National Contact Point. The complaint alleges that Pöyry violated Finland’s responsible business standards through its involvement in the Xayaburi Hydropower Project. On October 16, Finland's National Contact Point signed the decision to proceed with an investigation of Pöyry.

2012-06-01 00:00:00

International Rivers Report on Risk of Xayaburi Dam to Mekong Food Security

An investigation by International Rivers during June 14-18, 2012 revealed that Xayaburi Dam implementation had advanced rapidly, with resettlement, digging in the riverbed, and building of structures on the riverbanks. Interviews with villagers revealed significant food security risks at the resettlement sites and poor compensation measures. International Rivers published the findings of their field visit in a report released on September 11, 2012.

2012-07-06 00:00:00

Cambodian and Vietnamese Governments Object to Xayaburi Dam

The Cambodian and Vietnamese governments announce their intention to write a joint letter to the Lao government asking for the Xayaburi Dam to be suspended.

2012-07-13 00:00:00

Lao Govt Announces Postponement of Project, But Constuction Continues.

The Lao Foreign Minister publicly announced that the Xayaburi Dam was suspended pending the completion of further environmental studies. However, the following day, Vientiane Times reported that scheduled activities at the dam site, including resettlement, would continue.

2012-07-16 00:00:00

Site Visit to Xayaburi Dam - Construction Continues

At the request of MRC donors, the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines invited around 70 delegates from foreign governments to visit the Xayaburi Dam site. Despite claims to the US government that construction of the project would be suspended, the Lao government told the delegation that project implementation would continue and that transboundary impact studies were not necessary. Pöyry led the site visit and presented its plans to redesign the dam. The meeting coincided with a series of articles in the Lao government’s Vientiane Times in support of the project.

2012-07-17 00:00:00

Lao Government Announces Xayaburi Dam Redesign

The Lao government announced in the Vientiane Times that the Xayaburi Dam has been redesigned to address cross-border concerns. However the designs were not shared to the MRC or public. Two days later, the government reported that the redesign cost more than $100 million. As of September 2015, the final designs for the project have yet to be disclosed to the public.

2012-08-02 00:00:00

CNR Distances Itself From the Xayaburi Dam

Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR), the company hired by the government of Laos to review Pöyry's studies, issues a press release clarifying that the recommendations in its April 2012 were only conceptual and needed to be further developed. Laos ignored this statement and continued to portray CNR’s and Pöyry’s work as conclusive evidence that the dam would have no harmful impacts.

2012-08-07 00:00:00

Lawsuit Filed In Thailand Against Xayaburi Dam Power Purchase Agreement

Thai villagers file a lawsuit in Thailand’s Administrative Court against five Thai government agencies, arguing that they violated their constitutional rights and the 1995 Mekong Agreement in signing the Power Purchase Agreement for the Xayaburi Dam.

2012-09-07 00:00:00

Vietnam Warns Mekong Dams Risk Regional Conflict

The President of Vietnam warns that tensions over water resources are not only threatening economic growth but presenting a source of conflict in the region.

2012-09-13 00:00:00

Region Concerns Over Xayaburi Dam Remain 'Unanswered'

Cambodia's National Mekong Committee's Secretary-General tells reporters that Cambodia's concerns with the Xayaburi Dam project remain unanswered.

2012-10-01 00:00:00

Cambodian and Vietnamese Delegates Visit the Xayaburi Dam site

Cambodian and Vietnamese government delegations separately visit the Xayaburi Dam site and hear presentations by Pöyry and CNR, along with presentations from the Lao government. The visit was held outside of the MRC framework. The MRC Secretariat and outside experts were prevented from seeing the latest studies by the consultants.

Gambling With The Mekong River - The History Of The Xayaburi Dam

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