Southeast Asia Says “Dam the Greenies”

In a beautiful affirmation of the rights of the peoples and nations of this planet to develop their resources, the builder of the 3.5-billion-dollar Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos announced a ground-breaking ceremony for the beginning of river-bed work this Wednesday, Nov. 7, despite howls of protest from the Queen's Green hoards. The groundbreaking will take place immediately after the termination of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that has drawn about 50 Asian and European leaders to the Lao capital, and a large selection of the international press.

Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of Energy and Mines, announced the decision Monday. Preliminary works, such as the construction of roads and of new housing for the villages that will have to be displaced has been ongoing. The hydroelectric project is to be the first run-of-river dam to be built on the lower Mekong, although there are similar dams on the Chinese portion of the Mekong. In December, members of the Mekong River Commission's council, consisting of water and environment ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, urged a delay to allow further environmental research. In response, the Lao government and its chief partner in the project, Thailand's Ch Karnchang Public Co Ltd, agreed to spend an additional 100 million dollars to revamp the design of a fish ladder and sediment flow gates.

The various form of green scum and bottom dwelling slime have coalesced to protest any possibility of progress, arguing that poor fishermen on the Mekong should remain that way for eternity.

"They have no more serious complaints on the redesign of the dam," Viraphonh said of Laos' neighbours. "The Lao government is confident that with all these changes there will be no serious environmental impact, and that's why we've decided to go ahead."

Ninety percent of the power from this dam, and much of the power from the other 10 dams planned for the river, will be sold to Thailand, which has a growing industrial base. However, the remaining 10 percent of power that Laos will retain for its own development is a great and important addition to its currently very limited power resources.

"Xayaburi is a very good project," Viraphonh went on. "The financing is there and if we don't go ahead what are we expected to do? Solar farming? It's too expensive." Touche.

This development comes just over a week after the approval of the Laotian government to proceed with the construction of a $7 billion rail project, giving the country a high speed route into China. The railway will be over 250 miles (420km) long and will require construction of 76 tunnels and 154 bridges, including two bridges across the Mekong River. The tunnels and bridges alone
represent more than 60% of the total route, such is the mountainous nature of northern Laos.

The project will include 31 stations in all, but the government plans to open only 20 stations initially. It's a good day when a small country like Laos can give the Royals the greenest of heartburns. We should proceed with such boldness with the construction of NAWAPA XXI !

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