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Don Sahong hydropower project, Laos

The real cost for 260 MW? Read about the story of the Don Sahong dam and support the demands of EJOs for more impact studies and ultimately the reconsideration of the whole energy plan.


The proposed Don Sahong Hydropower Project is located on the Mekong River’s mainstream in the Si Phan Don area of southern Laos, less than two kilometers upstream of the Laos-Cambodia border. The project is one of 11 hydropower dams proposed or under construction along the Lower Mekong River. The dam would be between 30 and 32 meters high and generate 260 MW, mainly for export to Thailand or Cambodia.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Don Sahong hydropower project, Laos
Country:Lao PDR
State or province:Champasak
Location of conflict:Don Sahong Island, Si Phan Don. In the Lao border with Cambodia
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The power plant is proposed to have a nominal installed capacity of 260 MW, developed by discharging the design flow of 1600 m3/s operating at the rated head of 17.0m. Power output will vary with the seasonal flow variation, as in general terms a particular headwater/tailwater condition will correspond to a particular river flow, thus a particular power output.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:>100,000
Start of the conflict:2008
Company names or state enterprises:Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB) from Malaysia
Relevant government actors:Government of Laos
Rest of the Mekong River Commission and member countries (Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsThe area is recognized by scientists as a critical year-round bottleneck for fish migrating throughout the lower Mekong basin, which local villagers capitalize on to harvest an abundant fish catch. The most significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the Don Sahong Dam would be felt by local and regional inland fisheries
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:At first stage, International Rivers, WWF and others are demanding additional impact studies.
Secondly, their final suggestion is to cancel the project and register the area under the RAMSAR convention and encourage small scale tourism and conservation measures.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are all bound by the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Therefore, the obligation to prevent harmful effects (the no-harm principle) as stipulated in Article 7 needs to be strictly respected. This principle is broadly recognized as a general principle of international law. Prior to that, it was reflected in the judgment of the International Courts of Justice (ICJ) in the Corfu Channel case in 1949, which reads: “every State’s obligation not to allow knowingly its territory to be used for acts contrary to the rights of other States.”
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


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Sambo Sok, Meaningful participation? The case of Cambodian fishermen in the transboundary consultation processes for Don Sahong Hydropower Dam (Lao PDR)
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[1] International rivers, The Don Sahong Hydropower Project
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[2] Mekong River Commission on prior consultation
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[3] Hydroworld - Mega First signs agreement for development of Don Sahong hydropower project in Laos
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[4] Chiangrai News - NGOs Push for Postponement of Don Sahong Dam on Mekong
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[5] Khmer Times - Foreign Minister presses Laos on Don Sahong Dam
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[6] The Diplomat - Is Laos Building a New Illegal Dam on the Mekong River?
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Wikipedia: information about the Don Sahong Dam
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Calls for Angkor Beer Boycott Over Laos Dam Investment
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The Mekong River Commisssion
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International Rivers: Media Kit on the Don Sahong Dam
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Damming The Mekong River: Economic Boon Or Environmental Mistake?
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The Guardian:

Mekong river hydroelectric dam threatens livelihoods and endangered species in landlocked Laos
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The Diplomat

The Growing Mekong Controversy

Mekong consultants have exposed serious flaws in the Don Sahong Dam project, which continues regardless.
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Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam in Mekong

River divide Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
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Mega-First's RISKY investment threatens future of Mekong
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Comments on Don Sahong Dam’s 2013 Environmental Impact Assessment
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Laos dam threatens fishermens' livelihoods

Project has been damned by environmentalists, who say 30-metre barrier will warp the ecosystem.
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WWF: More than a quarter of a million people say no to Don Sahong dam
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South East Asia Globe

The impending Don Sahong dam has the potential to cause environmental catastrophe and destroy the livelihoods of the area’s daredevil fishermen
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Meta information
Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB,
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2180
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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