With today’s announcement that the Mekong River Commission will require further study of environmental and social impacts, the governments of the Mekong region have taken an important step toward a responsible decision on the Xayaburi dam project.
At the same time, communities in Thailand are raising their voices in opposition to the project. As noted in today’s Bangkok Post, community leaders, supported by some policymakers, are recognizing that this project needs to comply with Thai environmental laws and public consultation requirements – and are preparing to file a lawsuit, if necessary, to protect their rights. After all, the electricity from the project will benefit Thailand, a Thai contractor is slated to build the dam, it is being financed by Thai banks, and the electrical transmission lines will cross Thai territory. Even if the MRC does not stop the project, Thai law may provide an important backstop to ensure that appropriate public consultation and environmental and social assessments are conducted before moving forward with the dam.
Lawyers from the Mekong Legal Network are hard at work with concerned communities, ensuring that all legal avenues on both Thai and regional levels are explored for the protection of one of the last large untamed stretches of river in the world. Today’s announcement from the MRC, which comes after months of intense campaigning by local and international groups, shows how engaging legal institutions and promoting the rule of law can have immediate and tangible effects on communities – something that we in ERI have always believed in.