A two-day regional stakeholder forum on the proposed Pak Lay hydropower project and other ongoing initiatives came to a close on Sep 21.
The forum, convened by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), gathered about 160 participants from various stakeholder groups, including civil society, governmental and non-governmental organisations, academia, the private sector, and development partners.
They raised concerns and collectively made many recommendations to strengthen basin planning and environmental management in the Mekong.
MRC believes that inclusion and consideration of diverse views and interests strengthens water cooperation in the basin and that lies at the heart of our efforts to achieve our vision. We cannot hear your voice unless you raise it. We cannot meet your needs without knowing and understanding what those needs are, said MRC Secretariat Officer-in-Charge and Planning Division Director, An Pich Hatda, as he thanked the participants for coming on Thursday.
During the first day of the forum, the participants had the opportunity to review and discuss hydrology, hydraulics, sediment, dam safety, navigation, water quality, fisheries and socio-economic issues of the proposed 770 MW Pak Lay hydropower project. Following the discussion, the forum made various recommendations for the project’s technical review report, to be conducted by the MRC Secretariat.
For example, the participants suggested that operation rules of other dams on the mainstream should be considered for the operation of the Pak Lay dam. It was proposed that the MRC Secretariat and national line agencies should collect fish species data to improve fish passage design, considering the challenges implicit in having a cascade of dams on the Mekong mainstream. There was also a recommendation to explicitly consider gender components in the proposed project.
Other stakeholders used online media channels to raise their concerns, particularly noting that some parts of Pak Lay’s transboundary environmental and social impact assessment and cumulative impact assessment (TBSEIA/CIA) appear to be similar to those of the Pak Beng project. Concerns were also raised whether the project developers have considered recent policies and studies of the MRC in their assessments.
In our in-depth review of the documents over the course of the prior consultation process, we will review the extent of the similarities between the Pak Lay and Pak Beng assessments as well as identify any opportunities to improve the assessments by including recent data and information. Our team will document our findings in the technical review report, and we will highlight whether such shortcomings affect a reasonable and sound assessment of the project, explained Officer-in-Charge and Planning Division Director, An Pich Hatda.
All key stakeholder recommendations were recorded and will be included in the forum report, which will then be considered and reflected in the technical review report. The technical review report will include technical assessments of the proposed project, and it will be submitted to the MRC member countries, especially the proposing country, for their consideration and for possible inclusion in a joint statement and joint action plan.
Lao PDR has always attached great importance and special attention to the principles of sustainable development under the 1995 Mekong Agreement and other MRC’s procedures and guidelines. Addressing the challenges of sustainable development would not be possible without the considerable support and cooperation from our stakeholders, said Lao Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Bounkham Vorachit, as she opened the forum.
On the second day of the forum, the attendees also had an opportunity to hear updates and comment on various ongoing initiatives of the MRC. Among several key issues covered were updates and discussions on a joint action plan for the Pak Beng hydropower project, the Xayaburi design changes review, and an update of the preliminary design guidance for proposed mainstream dams in the lower Mekong basin.
The forum appreciated that these initiatives to improve basin management and planning are mainly the results of stakeholder consultation and contributions during the past prior consultation processes.
For instance, the prior consultation processes for the Xayaburi, Don Sahong, and Pak Beng hydropower projects indicated a need to update the MRC’s basin-wide hydropower strategy and design guidance for proposed dams on the Mekong mainstream. These updates are intended to help the member states enhance benefits beyond national borders and minimise adverse transboundary impacts, while supporting water, food, and energy security.
The forum heard that the strategy update is half-way completed, while the guidance is currently with the MRC member countries for their final review.
The regional stakeholder forum complements national consultations and allows stakeholders who may not have the opportunity to participate in the national meetings to voice their concerns and learn more about proposed projects and the prior consultation process.
This is the fourth time the MRC has carried out the prior consultation under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement, including the 1,285 MW Xayaburi hydropower project, the Don Sahong hydropower project, a 240 MW dam, and the 912 MW Pak Beng hydropower project.
The prior consultation on the Pak Lay hydropower project officially began on 8 August 2018 and will continue until March 2019. By that time, the Joint Committee Working Group, a technical advisory body of the MRC, will deliberate recommendations to be submitted to the MRC Joint Committee, a policy-implementing body consisting of representatives of MRC’s four member countries. The prior consultation process normally lasts six months but could be extended upon agreement by the Joint Committee.
The next regional stakeholder forum for the proposed Pak Lay hydropower project will take place in mid-January next year.
Source: Lao News Agency