The Mekong River is one of the world’s great rivers, flowing through six countries –PR China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. It has unique and irreplaceable biodiversity, and is essential to the livelihoods of the approximately 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.
In February 2016, the Joint Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River gave conditional approval for the Development Plan of International Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River – a complex transboundary project including the upgrading of several cargo ports; the partial clearing of 146 rapids, rocky outcrops and shoals to allow navigation for up to 500DWT vessels between Simao, PR China and Luang Prabang, Lao PDR; the construction of four emergency response and rescue ships; and the promotion of increased shipping, trade and passenger transport from Yunnan province to Luang Prabang.
There are potential significant long-term social and environmental impacts of the LMDP from port construction, increased waterway use and the partial removal of rapids and shoals. As the LMDP does not currently include a comprehensive environmental management plan, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) allocated funding to ICEM to conduct an Environmental Study of the LMDP from the Golden Triangle to Luang Prabang, and of the proposed Pak Beng hydropower project, located on the Lancang-Mekong River in northern Lao PDR.
The project included a period of scoping to determine key issues for biodiversity and socio-economics. It then assessed the baseline situation in the eight project themes (hydrology and sediment, aquatic biodiversity and wetlands, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles, waterways and socio-economics) to identify key trends in each. This was followed by an impact assessment of the LMDP and Pak Beng HPP on each of the trends and development of mitigation recommendations including priorities for an environmental management plan for how the most important risks can be managed. The project was completed in December 2018, and the reports and briefs from the project have now been made available. Key mitigation recommendations as set out in the project report are:
- Establish an enhanced baseline for biodiversity and livelihoods
- Develop an alternative layout and design for the proposed Pak Beng HPP hydropower dam to avoid or minimize impacts on biodiversity and livelihoods
- Embrace best practice construction and operation requirements for the LMDP and Pak Beng HPP
- Establish a transboundary Mekong mainstream conservation area network to restore habitat
- Conduct monitoring of biophysical and socio-economic conditions and impacts of the LMDP and Pak Beng HPP to ensure management strategies are effective
- Provide livelihood support and ensure the rights of ethnic minority and other vulnerable groups are respected
The publications released include three major reports: i) Baseline Assessment Report, ii) Impact Assessment Report and iii) Mitigation Recommendations Report; and four project briefs to supplement these. In addition, a number of presentations have been made available, from the Greater Mekong Forum in Bangkok, November 2016, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) International Conference in Siem Reap, April 2018, and the MRC Final Workshop in Vientiane, December 2018.