At the beginning of the year I asked whether the decision by the Lao Government to begin construction of a dam on the Mekong's mainstream at Xayaburi was setting the scene for other 'dominoes' on the river to fall.
In that post I noted that it now seemed certain the Cambodian Government was going ahead with the Se San 2 dam on the biggest tributary flowing into the Mekong in that country. And I observed that there were claims that the Lao Government was readying itself to undertake construction of additional mainstream dams at either Pak Beng, above Luang Prabang, or Don Sahong, in the far south of Laos.
The latter dam has been a matter of concern to environmentalists for many years, with a projected site at the Khone Falls long identified as the only location that enables fish to pass upstream through the falls to spawn in the upper part of the river. (This issue was canvassed in detail in my 2009 Lowy Paper, The Mekong: River Under Threat.)
Since the beginning of the year there have been suggestions that work had begun at Don Sahong, and here the question of terminology is important, with the precise meaning of 'work' often not defined. For this reason I have been searching for a reference that includes a clear statement from the Lao Government of its intentions, and this Radio Free Asia report appears to provide it.
According to Radio Free Asia, it appears construction has already begun on accommodation for workers at the dam site, with work on the dam itself set to begin next year. Since it also appears that the Lao Government has not submitted its plans to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) for consideration by the other members, this replicates its pattern of behaviour in relation to Xayaburi.
In short, the Lao have made clear that their approach is to present the MRC and fellow members of that body with a fait accompli. Given its much reduced influence, it seems most unlikely that the MRC can do other than accept that it has no basis to act against the Lao Government's intentions.
It will be now be of great interest to see what reactions eventually come from Phnom Penh and Vietnam.
Photo by Flickr user drburtoni.