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Xayaburi mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong River, Lao PDR


The Mekong River, a vein of life in Southeast Asia, is among the most bio-diverse rivers in the world and a central livelihood source of tens of millions of villagers living nearby. The construction of the immense Xayaburi mainstream dam, located in mountainous Northern Laos, is drastically changing the life of millions of villagers, leading to irreversible, large-scale environmental destruction, while creating significant transboundary tensions between the Mekong countries Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand [1;2].

As part of a series of 11 mainstream dams proposed on the Lower Mekong River, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Xayaburi dam was signed on May 4, 2007 with Thai Company CH Karnchang [3]. The 3.5 million dollar project, with a planned capacity of 1260MW of which around 95% will be exported to Thailand [1], underwent incomplete and flawed impact assessments by several companies [1;2;3]. One of them, Finnish engineering company Pöyry, was later on nominated as the constructor company, despite of an apparent conflict of interest [3]. According to the 1995 Mekong Agreement, mainstream dams require prior consultation of all affected countries via the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The Xayaburi dam was the first that triggered such a process; and while Laos claims to have complied with the agreement, there is evidence that this has not been the case [4]. The MRC urged Laos to postpone the decision for 10 years due to the high risky and unknown impacts, but construction work started in 2011, in spite of disagreement by neighboring governments of Cambodia and Vietnam [1;3].

First villagers were relocated in 2012 and received as little as 15$ of compensation, while resettlement areas were characterized by a lack of infrastructure and food insecurity [1;3]. Once fully constructed, the project will require the resettlement of 2,100 people – for some it will be the 4th resettlement within 15 years [1]. Over 202,000 people from 4 districts will be directly negatively affected in income, food security and livelihoods due to loss of agricultural lands, riverbank gardens, as well as end of gold panning which is an important local livelihood source [1]. On a Southeast Asian regional level, around 2.1 million people will be directly and indirectly affected by ecological and hydrological changes of the Lower Mekong mainstream river [5], and no less than 60 million people depend on its fish resources [2]. Irreversible environmental changes [2], to mention a few, will entail potential extinction of 41 fish species while other 23 migratory species will be blocked and endangered, such as the Mekong Giant catfish [1].

Resistance to the Xayabury dam has become a large transboundary issue, ranging from protests and formal complaints from Lao, Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers [1;3;6), over highly organized NGO campaigns [3;6;7;8], to governmental complaints from other Mekong countries [1;3]. In 2011, 263 NGOs from 51 countries signed a letter to Lao and Thai ministries urging them to stop the dam (Laos) and to step back from buying the produced electricity (Thailand) [8], however construction work continued. As of march 2014, construction was reported to be completed by 30% [3].

While the Lao government continues to justify the project for crucial revenue generation, it completely dismisses the social, cultural, ecological and economic wealth created by the free flowing river, enjoyed by millions of villagers along the Mekong river basin. The Xayaburi dam will change this forever, at a large cost, while a few companies will benefit, as well as Thailand, facing limits to the further expansion of hydroelectricity in its own country [10].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Xayaburi mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong River, Lao PDR
Country:Lao PDR
State or province:Xayabury province
Location of conflict:Xayabury district, Nam district, Luang Prabank district, Chomphet district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The dam has an expected capacity of 1260MW, a height of 32m, and a reservoir length of 60 to 100km [1;2;5].

The project requires an investment of around 3.5 billion US dollar [1;2].

The dam will be operated by Xayabury power company, whose biggest shareholder is Thai CH Karnchang company, Thailand’s second largest publicly traded company [1]. Other Thai consortium partners are PTT plc; Electricity Generating Company (EGCO); BKK Expressway and PT Construction and Irrigation [10].

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has signed an agreement to buy 95% of the produced electricity [1;3].For this purpose, a 200km long transmission line to Thailand needs to be constructed [1].

Key technology is provided by Austrian company Andritz AG, for which reason the company was filed an OECD complaint about their involvement in the human rights threatening project [9].

First feasibility studies were conducted by Thai TEAM consulting group and Swiss company Colenco [3]. Finnish engineering company Pöyry was hired to check compliance with Mekong River Commission standards, which became later on the construction company [3].

Required loans come from Thai banks Kasikorn Bank, Bangkok Bank, Krung Thai Bank and Siam Commercial bank [b]. These banks are financing the dam in spite of contradictions with their Corporate Social Responsibility Criteria [1;3].

Revenues for the developer CH Karnchang are expected to amount ot 3 to 4 billion dollar per year [2].

Level of Investment:3,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2,100 displaced; 202,000 directly affected in Laos; 2,100,000 directly and indirectly affected in SEA; 60,000,000 people in SEA depend on Mekong fish stocks that will negatively change with the dam
Start of the conflict:04/05/2007
Company names or state enterprises:Xayaburi Power Company Limited from Lao PDR - hydroelectric dams
CH Karnchang Public Company Limited (CH Karnchang PCL) from Thailand - invetsment, electricity, infrastructure
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand International Co. Ltd (EGAT) from Thailand
Pöyry PLC (Pöyry PLC) from Finland - engineering, consulting, hydroelectric dams
Andritz Group from Austria
TEAM Consulting Engineering and Management Co., Ltd. (TEAM) from Thailand - consulting, engineering
AF-Consult Switzerland AG from Switzerland - consultancy
PTT Public Company Limited from Thailand - energy, eletricity
Electricty Generating Public Company Limited (EGCO) from Thailand - electricty, energy
Bangkok Expressway Public Company Limited from Thailand
International and Finance InstitutionsKasikorn Bank from Thailand - banking, finance
Bangkok Bank from Thailand - banking, finance
Krungthai Bank PCL from Thailand - banking, finance
Siam Commercial Bank Public Company Limited (SCB) from Thailand - banking, finance
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Among the many involved NGOs are: Save the Mekong Coalition; Thai People’s Network for the Mekong; Love Chiang Khong Group; Living River Siam; TERRA Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance; International Rivers; S3 River protection network. More than 263 NGOs called for stopping the dam. A full list of these NGOs is available in reference [8]

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Violations of human rights


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:EJOs central aim is to stop the project
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project goes on.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Water and Water Resources Law Lao PDR

1995 Agreement on the cooperation for the sustainable development of the Mekong river basin

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Vaidyanathan, G. 2012. Remaking the Mekong. Nature 478: 305–307

[3] Time line of events as compiled and published by International Rivers (accessed 06/03/2015)

[4] Herbertson, K. 2013. Xayaburi Dam: How Laos Violated the 1995 Mekong Agreement. International Rivers (accessed 06/03/2015)

[5] Grumbine R., and Xu J., 2011. Mekong Hydropower Development. Science 8 April 2011: 332 (6026), 178-179 [DOI:10.1126/science.1200990]

[10] Middleton, C. (2012). Transborder Environmental Justice in Regional Energy Trade in Mainland South-East

Asia. ASEAS - Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 5(2), 292-315.

[1] International Rivers 2011. The Xayaburi Dam - A looming threat to the Mekong River. Factsheet. (accessed 05/03/2015)

Further assessment of all planned Mekong dams: ICEM 2010: STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF HYDROPOWER ON THE MEKONG MAINSTREAM FINAL REPORT. Prepared for the Mekong River Commission.

Wikipedia on the Xayaburi dam

[6] Phnom Penh Post article (18/09/2012): "Cambodians protest Xayaburi in Bangkok" (accessed 05/03/2015)

[8] 263 NGOs: Global Call to Cancel the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River mainstream in Northern Lao PDR (accessed 05/03/2015)

[9] Earthrights on the involvement of Austrian Company Andritz AG (accessed 06/03/2015)

[7] Statement to Leaders of Asia and Europe on the Occasion of the 9th ASEM Summit. An Emerging Cross-border Crisis in Mekong: Stop Xayaburi Dam. 5 November 2012 (accessed 06/03/2015)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Short video on the construction of the dam

Video: Our Living river - voices against Xayaburi

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update18/08/2019



Protests agains the Xayaburi dam


Construction of the Xayaburi dam


Map of the dam

Source: see International Rivers [1]