Thai Citizens’ Group Submits Evidence of Impact of Laos’ Xayaburi Dam to Court

A group of concerned Thai citizens Friday submitted additional evidence regarding the impact of Laos’ Xayaburi dam to the Thai Supreme Administrative court, describing damage to fisheries and dramatic changes to an ecosystem that sustains millions of lives.

In an ongoing lawsuit concerning Laos’ first of five planned large-scale Mekong river dams, the Network of Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces is challenging the legitimacy of a power purchase agreement between Laos and Thailand, saying that the project has failed to properly assess the environmental impact of the dam in Thailand.

“The submission of additional evidence comes after half a year of project operations. During this period, downstream of the dam, stretches of the Mekong in seven Thai provinces experienced sharp and unusual water fluctuations, and ‘clear blue water’ – a phenomenon that signals an absence of the nutrients and sediment that are critical to aquatic lives, fisheries, and agriculture in the lower Mekong basin,” said the International Rivers NGO in a press statement about the submission.

“The timing and location of the dramatic ecosystem changes indicate that they are linked to the operations of the Xayaburi dam,” the statement said.

The impact was observed in parts of Thailand’s Loei province, as well as in Nong Kai, Bung Kan, Nakorn Phnom, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen and Ubon Ratchatani provinces.

“The rise and fall of the river is not normal anymore. The rapid fluctuations of the river is impacting on aquatic ecosystems and fisheries. I am worried that fisheries, which are important for our food and income, will continue to decline,” Channarong Wongla, one of the plaintiffs from Loei province, was quoted as saying in the statement.

In addition to submitting the evidence, the Network is also asking the court to suspend the Power Purchase agreement until their evidence can be properly assessed.

Om Boun, the chairwoman of the Network, told RFA’s Lao Service Friday that the group has been observing the impact of the dam during its past eight years of construction and that a previous petition letter was ignored.

“We sent a petition letter to the high court eight years ago and court has made no decision yet, and nothing has been done,” said Om.

“Our concern is that impact from Xayabury dam in the last 8 years is [observably] enormous in year 2019 and 2020. That’s why we came back to submit [our evidence] again in order to make the court come up with a decision on what they are going to do. We urge them to make decision for us and for our people,” she said.

“Problems that we are concerned about are happening right now. We also worry that if the dam breaks, the court can help us. So that’s why we are here,” said the chairwoman.

Laos has built dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries in its quest to become “the battery of Southeast Asia,” exporting the electricity they generate to other countries in the region, and is preparing to build scores more dams in the years ahead.

Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers, and questionable financial arrangements.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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