As previewed last Friday, the Second Mekong Summit, held in Ho Chi Minh City on 5 April, concluded with a Declaration that did not directly address the contentious issue of the two dams Laos is constructing on the Mekong River at Xayaburi and Don Sahong (Xayaburi has been reported by the Lao Government to be 30% completed, while Don Sahong is set to go into full construction at the end of this year).
It's true that the Declaration refers to the need for 'strengthened cooperation for the sustainable development of the Mekong Basin', while claiming there has been 'expanded implementation of the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement...to support sound decision-making on proposed water resources development projects in the Mekong River Basin'. But these motherhood statements fly in the face of the manner in which the Lao Government has been pursuing its dam strategies.
Before the summit took place, the Cambodian Water Resources Minister, Lim Keanhor said 'that Cambodia would raise the construction of the Lao Don Sahong dam during the summit'. And at a press conference after the summit the Vietnamese Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Nguyen Minh Quang, said Laos should consult with other MRC members before taking further action at Don Sahong.
But the most direct comments on the future of the Lao dams have come from prominent NGOs and not from governments, with International Rivers calling for the immediate cessation to work on Don Sahong and Xayaburi, and WWF claiming that 'development partners' at the meetings in Ho Chi Minh City had called for re-evalutation not just of the Lao dams but also of Cambodian plans to build the Se San 2 dam.
So the question is now quite straightforward: will Laos continue to simply ignore the calls for it to abandon Xayaburi and Don Sahong? All evidence suggests it will, particularly in the case of Xayaburi, where construction is already so far advanced. Halting work at Don Sahong would be less of a back-down, but the Lao Government has been adamant in stating its intentions to proceed.
If, in the face of criticism from its MRC partners, Laos simply disregards the calls for it to stop construction of the dams, the worth of the 1995 Mekong Agreement will be dealt a major, even fatal blow, at least so far as its having any role to play in relation to the control of dam-building on the Mekong. Indeed, this point may have already been reached.