The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has welcomed the highly applauded and progressive decision of the Prime Minister of Lao PDR, following an extra-ordinary meeting of his cabinet on 6 August 2018, that the country will review all existing and under-construction dams and suspend the consideration of all new hydropower investments considering the Xepian Xenamnoy dam break.
According to the press release by the Lao government, the review and suspension will also afford the country to update its hydropower strategy and plan.
“As a regional intergovernmental organization, we wholeheartedly welcome the decision and initiative of the Lao Prime Minister to review all the dams and re-examine all new hydropower investments,” MRC CEO Pham Tuan Phan said. “We’re seeking ways to synergize Lao PDR’s efforts in reviewing and updating its hydropower strategy and plan with the MRC’s basin development strategy and plan and the on-going state of the basin report for a more sustainable Mekong region,” he added.
The MRC, in which Lao PDR is an active member, contributor and host to its Secretariat Headquarters, has long supported this country and three other Member Countries – Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam – in the sustainable development of the Mekong River basin. The Commission has both strategies and technical expertise at its disposal to assist the Member Countries, in particular Lao PDR, in this endeavor.
The MRC has recently completed a $4.7 million study on the Sustainable Development and Management of the Mekong River Basin, including the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower Projects, known as “Council Study”. The Council Study, commissioned in late 2011 by the four Mekong Prime Ministers and completed in December 2017, indicates both positive and adverse impacts of planned water resources development.
Following the endorsement by the Mekong Prime Ministers at their 3rd MRC Summit in April 2018 to consider findings of the Council Study, the MRC is working to update a Mekong Sustainable Hydropower Development Strategy (SHDS) with alternative development pathways that consider the most optimal and sustainable portfolio of projects. This update considers regional energy needs and integration, national development goals, emerging forms of energy renewables, climate change, transboundary social and environmental considerations, cost and benefit sharing and joint projects.
The SHDS, expected to be approved by the Member Countries in early 2019, will lead to an adaptation of national plans and projects. It will also contribute to the 2019 update of a Mekong Basin Development Strategy (BDS) – a cooperative plan toward joint efforts to address national, cross-border and regional needs, challenges and opportunities – with a new Basin Development Plan (BDP) for the whole basin. The BDS/BDP prioritizes not only hydropower projects but also irrigation, flood and drought control, navigation and tourism.
The MRC will invite and closely work with its Dialogue Partners – China and Myanmar – in the update of the BDS/BDP because development and management of the Mekong River needs to be conducted from a whole of basin perspective. Mekong-related cooperation frameworks such as Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, Greater Mekong Sub-region, Lower Mekong Initiative, Mekong Japan, Mekong Korea, and Mekong Ganga are also called upon to engage and support.
The updated SHDS, Lao hydropower strategy and plan and BDS/BDP will pave the way for a more sustainable development of the Mekong River basin since prioritized development projects with high basin-wide benefits and low transboundary costs would be promoted, considered and built. These projects would then also facilitate the implementation of MRC’s guidelines, such as the Design Guidance for mainstream dams, which includes dam safety standards, and the Prior Consultation process under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) – a set of three separate processes undertaken by MRC Member Countries for certain projects using water from the Mekong basin, which may significantly alter water flow or water quality of the Mekong mainstream.
“While the dam break is a national tragedy, it ushers in a new hope for a more optimal, sustainable and less contentious path for development of one of the greatest rivers in the world. The governments of Lao PDR and Mekong countries deserve all our support and I call on all other Mekong-related organizations and cooperation frameworks to join us,” CEO Pham said.