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Controversial Xayaburi dam in Laos officially suspended

UPDATE: On July 24, WWF reported that construction work appears to be proceeding ahead at the Xayaburi dam site despite the official announcement that the dam has been suspended.

Mekong River at the Khong Phapheng falls in Laos. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Work on the controversial Xayaburi dam in the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao has been officially suspended, reports Reuters.

“The Lao government decided to postpone it,” Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith was quoted as saying Friday. “We have to do further studies.”

The proposed $3.5 billion dam had angered environmentalists and local communities for its potential impact on fisheries. Vietnam had also opposed the project, which was mostly backed by Thai companies. About 95 percent of the electricity would have gone to Thailand.

The dam would have been the first to span the lower Mekong River, one of the region’s most important rivers. Three dams already exist upriver from the Xayaburi dam site on the Chinese stem of the Mekong. Ten other dams are planned for the main stem of the Mekong, but the suspension of the Xayaburi could slow progress on those projects.

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