The Don Sahong dam is a hydropower project under construction on the mainstream of the Mekong River in southern Laos, less than two kilometers upstream from the border with Cambodia. Construction began in January 2016. If completed, the dam will have dire impacts on the livelihoods, food security and environment of communities both upstream and downstream of the project. In 2014, ERI and a coalition of NGOs filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) against Mega First Corporation Berhad, the Malaysian company developing the dam. ERI has also worked with frontline communities to bring their concerns to the U.N. and the Mekong River Commission.
The Don Sahong dam poses significant threats to subsistence and commercial fisheries throughout the Lower Mekong basin. At the site of the project, the Mekong River splits into a series of narrow channels, forming a unique habitat of river islands. This area is a vital home for the Irrawaddy Dolphin, a vulnerable species that lives only in a stretch of the Mekong in Laos and Cambodia. The channel on which the dam is being constructed, the Hou Sahong Channel, is a year-round migration route for over 100 species of fish. There has been no assessment of the dam’s transboundary impacts on fisheries, despite the fact that fish are an essential source of food for 60 million people living in the Mekong basin. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) that was conducted lacked adequate baseline data. Communities in Laos were not meaningfully consulted and there were no community consultations in neighboring countries.
Cambodian communities from Kratie and Stung Treng provinces
Thai communities from Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Rai, Nong Khai and Bueng Kan provinces
Mega First Corporation Berhad
In March, Mega First Corporation Berhad signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Laos in order to begin feasibility studies for the dam.
In July, a draft EIA for the project was released by PEC Konsult Sdn Bhd and Australian Power and Water on behalf of Mega First. NGOs spoke out, criticizing the scope and accuracy of the EIA. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat for the Lao government responded with a report showing concerns over the project’s impacts on fisheries, inadequate mitigation plans and the EIA’s failure to consider the social impacts of the project.
In October, PEC Konsult Sdn Bhd and Australian Power and Water released a feasibility study of the project for Mega First.
In August, an independent scientific report concluded that the Don Sahong dam will threaten the food security of millions of people by blocking the migration of crucial fish species through the Khone Falls area. The report determined that mitigation measures outlined in the project’s draft EIA would likely prove inadequate. The report was sent to the governments of Laos and Cambodia, along with a letter from leading fisheries scientists, nutritionists and development workers from the region and around the world.
In January, the final cumulative impact assessment (CIA) for the Don Sahong dam project was released. Mega First commissioned National Consulting Company to conduct the CIA and other studies, including the EIA, Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan, Social Impact Assessment, Social Management and Monitoring Plan and a Resettlement Action Plan.
In September, The Government of Laos notified the MRC of the plans for the Don Sahong dam.
In January, International Rivers released an independent review of the EIA from 2013 which showed gaps and inaccuracies in the EIA, specifically around fish migration, hydrology, transboundary impacts and community consultations.
In April, Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) and Tonle Sap and Mekong community representatives wrote an open letter to the Prime Ministers of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, calling for them to halt the construction of the Don Sahong dam and stop all other hydropower projects on the mainstream of the Mekong.
In June, the Government of Laos submitted the project for Prior Consultation by the MRC, under the requirements of the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) specified by the 1995 Mekong Agreement. An outline of this process and related documents for the Don Sahong dam are available on the MRC website.
ERI worked with the Culture and Environmental Preservation Association, Cambodian Rural Development Team and Northeastern Rural Development on community consultations with Cambodian communities from 33 villages in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. Most of those who participated in these consultations reported that they had no contact with Mega First. A letter of representation for the Cambodian communities is included here (Annex A).
In August, ERI worked with Community Resource Centre and International Rivers to conduct community consultations in Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Rai, Nong Khai and Bueng Kan provinces, Thailand. These communities had not been consulted regarding the Don Sahong Project or been provided any information. A letter of representation for the communities in Thailand is included here (Annex B).
In October, ERI worked with a coalition of NGOs to file a complaint against Mega First with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), calling for an investigation into the impact of the Don Sahong project on livelihoods of local communities and on an endangered dolphin population. The complaint called on SUHAKAM to ensure that Mega First address the frontline communities’ concerns about human rights violations.
In June, the MRC released a statement announcing that, as the MRC Council was unable to agree on a path to resolve issues with project, disputes would now have to be settled through diplomatic channels.
In September, the Don Sahong Power Company and the Government of Laos entered into a concession agreement.
In October, Mega First and Laos state-owned utility Electricite Du Laos signed a power-purchase agreement and China’s Sinohydro International Corporation was contracted to construct the project.
In January, Construction began on the Don Sahong dam.
In April, SUHAKAM published their 2015 annual report and concluded that the commission lacked the mandate to investigate a transboundary case and therefore could not proceed further with the inquiry. Despite SUHAKAM’s decision regarding their jurisdiction, they issued recommendations to both the Malaysian government and Mega First on the human rights and environmental impacts of companies operating abroad.
SUHAKAM’s report recommended that the Malaysian government develop policies to ensure that they comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
In May, ERI succeeded in having the frontline communities’ concerns included in a report by the UN Special Procedures that was sent to the Government of Malaysia, Mega First and the Mekong River Commission regarding the transboundary impacts of the dam.
In November, ERI and the Save the Mekong coalition wrote an open letter the dam’s developers calling for them to stop construction until the project’s impacts are better understood and to make existing information publicly available.
The likelihood and severity of violations to Mekong communities’ human rights to health, life and livelihood that result from harm to fish stocks; The past and continuing violations to Mekong communities’ right to information regarding the Don Sahong Project and its likely consequences; and The past and continuing violation of Mekong communities’ right to participate in the decision-making and approval of projects that affect their interests.
Laos Denies Dam Construction | Radio Free Asia | September 4, 2012
NGOs Petition Malaysian Human Rights Body Over Laos Dam | Radio Free Asia | October 20, 2014
Vietnam slams Don Sahong | Phnom Penh Post | December 25, 2014
Death by strangulation? Hydropower Threatens to Kill the Mighty Mekong | The Ecologist | March 27, 2015
Don Sahong Dam – Disaster in the Making That Must Be Halted | The Ecologist | November 17, 2016
Endangered Dolphins at Risk as Controversial Don Sahong Dam Takes Shape | Channel NewsAsia | November 18, 2016
Say No to the Don Sahong Dam Project | January 23, 2015
Rethinking Food Security: the Right to Food in the Mekong | Maureen Harris | April 3, 2013
World Rivers Day: The Humanitarian and Economic Arguments for a New Model of Hydropower | Patrick Boyle | September 28, 2014
“Our Voices Will Be Heard” – A Complaint to the Malaysian Human Rights Commission against the Developer of Don Sahong Dam | Tanja Venisnik | October 27, 2014
Say No to the Don Sahong Dam | Valentina Stackl | January 22, 2015
World Rivers Day: Snapshots of Mekong River Dams | Maureen Harris | September 29, 2015
We still have hope for the future of our children | Tanja Venisnik | April 26, 2016
Story of a River Follower | Guest | June 6, 2016
Videos and Publications
A Thousand Times: How the Don Sahong Dam Endangers Communities | November 4, 2014
Mekong Mainstream Dams Map (International Rivers)
Feeding Southeast Asia: Mekong River Fisheries and Regional Food Security (International Rivers)
Key Findings of the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (International Rivers/Mekong River Commission)