Thailand Unhappy About China-Funded Laos Dam

12 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat
BANGKOK, Thailand

The government of Thailand has expressed concern about plans by Laos to build another hydroelectric dam on the Mekong River, citing environmental concerns.

Thailand has called for a more comprehensive scientific study into the impact of the proposed Sanakham dam on the river’s already fragile ecosystems and has threatened to veto the project using its rights as a member of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) if it concludes that the construction will harm the environment.

Financed by China at an anticipated cost of 6.4 billion baht ($ 214 Million USD) the dam is intended to provide a source of income to impoverished Laos through exporting its electricity to nearby Thailand. However, the Thai government has indicated that it may not buy the power generated by the 684-megawatt hydroelectric facility if its concerns are not addressed.

Under the terms of the Mekong Agreement, the project must undergo a Procedure for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process. The Thai government has declined to organise the necessary public hearings until further studies are carried out.

Speaking to the press in December, Somkiat Prajamwong, secretary general of Thailand’s Office of National Water Resources said that the limited information supplied by the Lao government hints at increased levels of sediment in the freshwater ecological system, adding: “But this data is not up to date at all. Thai authorities need more recent information.”

The proposed site between Xayaburi and Vientiane is only two kilometres upstream of the Thai-Lao border. The deputy governor of Loei Province, which is immediately downstream of the site, has voiced local concerns that the impact of the dam could be even more significant than that already felt by the Xayaburi dam, despite it being considerably further upstream.

Environmentalist groups including NGO coalition Save the Mekong have already voiced their opposition to the project, calling the Sanakham dam proposals “expensive, unnecessary and risky”.

The 12th longest in the world, the Mekong River runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Already heavily dammed in China, changes to its flow have had a noticeable impact on the river’s ecology and on the downstream communities dependent upon it for food, fresh water and livelihoods.

The controversy over the Sanakham dam comes as the US-funded Mekong Dam Monitor launches. The real-time platform collects data from cloud-piercing satellite to provide a view of how major dams and climate conditions impact hydrological conditions along the Mekong basin.