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Laos continues with plans to build controversial dam

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The nation of Laos has decided to proceed with the construction of the controversial Mekong river dam. The proposed dam has brought much concern about ecological viability from other countries in the region. Construction of the $3.8 billion dam will proceed after ceremonies later this week.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Laos say the dam has adapted the design to calm environmental concerns from neighboring nations.
             
"After two years of preparation the Laos government will have a ground breaking ceremony on November 7 and will then start working on the dam itself in the Mekong river this week," Deputy Energy Minister Viraphonh Viravong told journalists.
             
The hydroelectric project at Xayaburi, led by Thai group CH Karnchang, has sharply stirred emotions among the four Mekong nations -- Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, all countries who rely on the river system for fish and irrigation.
             
Building work on the main project has been stalled for about 18 months over concerns over its environmental impact.
             
Some aspects of the dam's design had been changed to "reassure neighboring countries." Viravong insists that objections would not derail plans to finish the project by the end of 2019.
             
The dam is the first of 11 on the key waterway and has become a symbol of the potential risks of hydropower projects in the region.
             
One the world's most under-developed nations, communist Laos believes the dam will help it become "the battery of Southeast Asia" by selling electricity to its richer neighbors.
             
Thailand has agreed to buy most of the electricity generated by the project. Cambodia and Vietnam fear that the dam could have a deleterious effect on their farming and fishing industries.
             
Environmentalists say the dam would be disastrous for the 60 million people who depend on the river for transportation, food and economy. Certain Mekong fish species could become endangered as vital nutrients are trapped and dozens of species are prevented from swimming upstream to mating grounds.
             
Viraphonh told state-run Vientiane Times this past summer that it would be "one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world," but promised that construction would not go ahead until fears from neighboring countries had been assuaged.
             
Changes to the project addresses the two major issues: fish migration and sediment flow, Current plans include a passage to allow 85 percent of fish to travel along the river and a "flushing system" to prevent sediment build up.
             
Fifty Thai villagers representing communities along the Mekong river submitted a lawsuit to a court in Bangkok in August seeking to prevent their country buying power from the hydropower project.

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