Many scientists have asked the Vietnamese Government to propose Laos to suspend its Pak Beng hydropower project to wait for thorough assessment of the project’s possible impacts on areas in the lower Mekong River.
They made the request at a seminar held by the Vietnam National Mekong Committee in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho on May 12. The event aimed to consult experts in Vietnam’s southern localities about Laos’s Pak Beng hydropower project on the mainstream Mekong River.
The project is located in Pak Beng district of the Lao province of Oudomxay. It is the first of the 11 hydropower dams planned to be built on the mainstream Mekong River, including nine in Laos and two in Cambodia.
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha, who is also Chairman of the Vietnam National Mekong Committee, said located at the end of the Mekong River, Vietnam is keeping a close watch on hydropower projects on the mainstream of the river. It is deeply concerned about their impacts on the environment, socio-economic situation and livelihoods of 20 million residents in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.
Accumulated impacts, resulted by the increase of water use in the upper river and climate change, reached their peak in the Mekong Delta with drought and saltwater intrusion in the dry season of 2016, along with serious land erosion and subsidence in numerous places, especially along the Vam Nao River in Cho Moi district, An Giang province, in late April, he added.
Prof. and Dr Nguyen Ngoc Tran, former Vice Chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee for External Affairs, said the provided report on the Pak Beng hydropower project’s impacts only took into account statistics of six years – a too short period of time to make a trustworthy assessment of the project’s impacts.
He said this project will negatively influence the Mekong Delta a lot, asking Laos to suspend the construction of this dam to make another report giving more comprehensive evaluation of the project’s impacts.
Notably, the Pak Beng project is situated in an earthquake prone area, Tran said, noting that many earthquakes with 6-7 magnitudes were recorded in areas near Pak Beng from 1935 to 2011. Earthquake will influence the dam’s safety, but this problem hasn’t been included in the provided report.
Echoing the view, Dr Vu Ngoc Long from the Southern Institute of Ecology said the current report on the project lacks reliable data and an evaluation of cross-border impacts.
MA Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent researcher on the Mekong Delta, attributed land erosion in the Mekong Delta mostly to a shortage of mud and sand. Meanwhile, the Pak Beng project’s biggest impact is on alluvium and sand sources, and it is just one of the 11 planned dams on the mainstream Mekong River.-