The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is gearing up for another test of its effectiveness following the announcement of Laos’ plans to construct the Pak Beng hydropower project, the third proposed dam on the Mekong mainstream.
Laos must undergo a six-month consultation process before proceeding with the hydropower project, as mandated by the 1995 Mekong Agreement. For the previous two mainstream dams, Xayaburi and Don Sahong, the consultation processes ended in disagreement. Though downstream countries called for further studies of the social and environmental impacts of each dam, Laos nevertheless moved forward unilaterally with construction.
Critics point to the failure of previous consultation processes as evidence that the MRC can never be an effective platform for Mekong river governance. However, the value of the MRC should not be based entirely upon the success of the consultation processes for large infrastructure projects. The organization produces important data and analysis and works to strengthen norms of basin-wide cooperation, both of which can help to encourage more sustainable approaches to Mekong river development.
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