Lao PDR is to undertake MRC’s prior consultation on its new hydropower development plan in Pak Beng

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The Lao government has notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that it will seek the the MRC’s prior consultation on the Pak Beng hydropower project in Oudomxay province. See the full release below, and at the MRC’s website

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 7 November 2016 – The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat has received a notification from the Lao government that it will undertake the formal process of prior consultation on its new hydropower project planned in Pak Beng in the Lao PDR’s northern province of Oudomxay.

The Pak Beng Hydropower Project is a run-of river project located in the Mekong mainstream. The power plant is planned to have an installed capacity of 912 MW, designed to discharge the flow of 5,771.2 cubic meters per second.

The Lao National Mekong Committee Secretariat submitted on 4 November the detailed description of the planned project to the MRC Secretariat for its review and further action to inform the other member countries about the project’s scope and other requirements under the prior consultation process. Within the next one month, the MRC Secretariat will review the document and verify its completeness with the rules before forwarding the case to the MRC’s Joint Committee (JC), a body consisting of four member countries’ representatives at the head of department level where the consultation takes place.

The prior consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules on cooperation on water use of the Mekong mainstream: the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA). Under the procedures, any infrastructural project using the mainstream water during the dry season within the same basin, as well as during the wet season between two basins, must undergo the prior consultation process. Applicable projects include large-scale irrigation and hydropower development which may cause significant impacts on the environment, water flow and quality of the Mekong mainstream.

In the prior-consultation process, with technical and administrative support from the MRC Secretariat, the notified member countries would review technical aspects of the project, assess any possible impact on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. The member countries aim to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. It is not meant to approve or not to approve the proposed project. This process normally lasts six months, but could be extended further by the JC.

The MRC so far experienced two prior consultation cases – Xayaburi and Don Sahong hydropower projects, both of which are located in the Mekong mainstream in Lao PDR. In the two cases, neither of them reached an agreement at the JC level and were referred to the MRC Council, the organisation’s highest body with the ministers from the four countries. The Council was also unable to reach a unanimous conclusion on the cases.

For Xayaburi, however, the process has prompted the Lao government and the developer to conduct its own environmental impact assessment and to invest additional $400 million to revise its dam’s design in order to address the issues of fish migration and sediment, two of the main concerns raised during the prior consultation.

From learning lessons from the previous cases, the MRC has reviewed various aspects of the PNPCA to improve its application, including adequacy of documentation and early sharing of information.

“We have learned lessons from the previous two cases. The Secretariat is ready to assist the member countries to review the project, assess technical aspects and come to a conclusion in an inclusive and meaningful way,” said MRC Secretariat CEO Pham Tuan Phan. The MRC together with the National Mekong Committees will facilitate national and regional consultations to solicit the public views on the case.

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The MRC is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation in the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. It was established by a 1995 agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. It serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region. It is not a supra-national or regulatory body. The commission looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, enhancing flood management and preserving important ecosystems.

For more information, please contact:
The Office of the Secretariat in Vientiane
E-mail: mrcmedia@mrcmekong.org
Phone: +856-021 263 263