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Lao gov't pledges transparency over Don Sahong dam

VIENTIANE, March 12 (Xinhua) -- A delegation, including Mekong River Commission (MRC) member states, development partners and NGOs, visited the site of the upcoming Don Sahong hydropower project as the Lao government pledges continued transparency, state media reported Wednesday.

The two-day visit, organized by the Lao government and developer Mega First Corporation, is part of the ongoing effort to make the development process transparent and address concerns regarding the project's potential impact, said the Vientiane Times.

The site visit to Khong district in Lao Champassak province allowed over 100 participants to learn from experts how fish would be able to pass through various channels uninhibited in the dry season.

Before departing for the site, Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong and Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Somchit Inthamith presided over a presentation where experts explained how they would address potential impacts of the project.

The government has demanded that the project's developers conduct extensive research on all potential environmental and social impacts of the project, said Viraphonh.

"We insist that studies be done professionally and thoroughly by recognized international experts and that the resulting analysis and technical data be disseminated wholly and honestly with other qualified experts for discussion," he said.

The 260 MW project, located at Hou Sahong, one of several Mekong channels in the region, accounts for only 5 percent of the Mekong's average natural water flow.

Environmentalists are concerned that construction of a dam on Hou Sahong will prevent fish from migrating upriver in the dry season. Developers used the visit to explain that the Hou Sahong isn't the only channel used for upstream migration. Currently developers are working with local villagers to improve migration pathways in several other Mekong channels.

Project developers also noted that the electricity generated by the project would assist in the socio-economic development in southern Laos currently impeded by a shortage of power.

The Lao government will continue to welcome comments from MRC member states as well as development partners and environmentalists to help improve the project's final design and ensure its sustainability, reported Vientiane Times.

"We welcome full and frank discussion of all relevant technical matters. We will be open and transparent and cooperate in the spirit of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. That is how hydropower is developed in Laos," Viraphonh said.

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