The Lao government is intent on building a dam on the Mekong just upstream of the country’s old royal capital. Despite the project having undergone design work, environmental impact assessment and a prior consultation process managed by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), no impact assessment on heritage site has been carried out to date — despite requests by Unesco’s World Heritage Centre dating back as far as 2012 that the Lao government should do so. Ahead of next month’s World Heritage Committee meeting in China, Unesco has asked that the no construction work go ahead on the dam until a full heritage assessment has been completed.
In fact, Luang Prabang — the ancient capital known for its rich traditional architectural heritage and peaceful environment, has already been impacted by the next dam downstream, at Xayaburi. Luang Prabang’s river frontage is gone, and the old royal capital is now essentially a lakeside town at the tail end of the Xayaburi reservoir. Only when the reservoir levels are two to three metres below the full supply level does water flow past Luang Prabang in a natural manner. But maintaining such lower levels would mean sacrificing power output and hence profits by the dam developers — the same consortium proposing to build the Luang Prabang project.