Letter addressed to the 92 Deputies representing the 13 provinces of the Mekong Delta in the National Assembly
LUANG PRABANG HYDROELECTRIC DAM ANOTHER ECOLOGICAL DISASTER TO ITS BASIN AND THE MEKONG DELTA IN VIETNAM

To the 20 million inhabitants of the Mekong Delta
To the Friends of the Mekong Group

NGÔ THẾ VINH

Only three months are left, before the Prior Consultation Phase [10/ 2019 –4/ 2020] for the Luang Prabang Project comes to an end. If no immediate action or drastic change in the position of Vietnam is taken, the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the Luang Prabang Dam will take place in April of 2020. That would be a day of mourning to all the 20 million inhabitants of the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta. Sadly enough, it is the Vietnamese Government that causes its people to enter into mourning.

With the Mekong Delta being seriously degraded now and in the coming days, we can, with complete certainty, assert that: the Luang Prabang Dam Project with Vietnam as the lead investor is devoid of any benefits to the country and its people. On the contrary, it works to their detriment causing increasingly grievous damages to the entire Basin and Delta of the Mekong River.

This article is addressed to the 92 Deputies of the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta with the hope that you will act as a task force, within the limits of your authority, to take immediate actions, achieve a breakthrough to forestall a strategic mishap in the Mekong Basin as well as safeguard the Mekong Delta – the region you are representing.

VIETNAM: A BAFFLING ABSENCE

The English bulletin of RFA on 12/30/2019: the Government of Laos announced that the Luang Prabang Dam’s construction may begin ahead of schedule in 2020.


Picture 1_ Boats moored on the banks of the Mekong River in the vicinity of the construction site for the Luang PrabangHydroelectric Dam in Northern Laos  [source: RFA].

The bulletin stated: “A hydropower project that was to be the last of five planned large-scale Mekong river dams in Laos may begin construction ahead of schedule, according to the Lao government.

The Luang Prabang dam may become the third completed large Mekong dam in Laos after the now-operational Xayaburi and the Don Sahong dam, in its final testing phases.”
Support for the project from the Thai government may result in Luang Prabang leapfrogging the Pak Beng and Pak Lay dams, which have both completed their prior consultation phases.

An official of Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines told Thai TV Channel 3 on Tuesday that the government had faith in the project.

“The Lao government is confident that the company designing the Luang Prabang dam will come up with a good construction plan,” said Chansaveng Boungnong, the director general for the ministry’s Department of Energy Policy and Planning.

“It’s going to be like the Xayaburi dam,” Chansaveng said, adding, “Luang Prabang may be built before Pak Beng and Pak Lay.”

Thai BBC also reported that Chansaveng participated in a meeting for the project’s prior consultation process on the same day in Thailand’s Nakhorn Panom province.

“This project may be going forward before Pak Beng dam and Pak Lay dam because the Thai government also supports it,” he said at the meeting.

RFA was not able to verify Chansaveng’s assertion with the government in Bangkok.

He also said the project’s joint support, and the fact that the Lao government is currently negotiating a power purchase agreement with Thai government and business entities, were signs that construction could soon be underway.” (1)

Observation of the author: careful scrutinizing of the news shows although state-owned PetroVietnam, PV Power is the lead investor but only the Thai and Lao are partners in the negotiations to expedite the implementation of the Luang Prabang Project. Vietnam is totally left out of the picture – an extremely inexplicable omission. Does it mean that after using the hard-earned tax money of the Vietnamese people to invest 38% of the over US$ 2.3 billion cost of the Luang Prabang Project in a beforehand  “forfeited” gamble, Petro Vietnam is willing to play second fiddle in the role of an outside observer to watch the Thai and Laos players do all the betting?

ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF PETROVIETNAM INVOLVEMENT IN THE  LUANG PRABANG PROJECT

Not only state-owned PetroVietnam Power Corporation, but also a group of egg-heads or advisors who are either corrupt or lack in strategic outlook must stand accused for this deplorable situation. Out of bad faith, they constantly repeat in chorus this same refrain:

Being the poorest country in Southeast Asia, Laos has the right to build the Luang Prabang and other main stream dams on the Mekong River. If such is the case, it would serve Vietnam’s best interests to take the initiative and invest in the Luang Prabang Dam Project to preempt China from doing so.

When PetroVietnam decided to become the lead investor, it also presumed that Vietnam will be able to gain the initiative in the selection of the design, construction, operation of the project and its multi-faceted regulatory control, [sic] including the ability to purchase electricity from Laos.  On the other hand, a sustained boycott would leave carte blanche for China to gain full strategic control of the hydroelectricity plan of Laos. (6)   


Picture 2_ Mekong updated in 2020:China has built 11 dams on the Lancang-Mekong upstream.Laos has completed 2 main stream damsthe Xayaburi and Don Sahong. The Luang Prabang (1410 MW)is the largest project and the third in a series of 9 mainstream dams in Laos. This controversial project has PetroVietnam Power Co. as the lead investor and is being built in an earthquake prone zone in Northern Laos. TheXayabury Dam became operational on 10. 29.2019 on a section of the river which is being drained dry almost to exhaustion. [source: Michael Buckley, updated by Ngô Thế Vinh in 2020].

ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE CANCELLATION OF THE INVESTMENT IN THE LUANG PRABANG PROJECT

Number 1, to say that Laos is the poorest country in Southeast Asia is no longer true. Since 2017, the average per capita income of Laos, as reported by the statistics compiled by the IMF & WB [3/2019], is higher than that of Vietnam by three ranks. (6)

Number 2, the Mekong Agreement 1995, did not grant Laos unilateral decision to build dams on the Mekong River main stream. According to that Agreement, even though the member countries no longer hold the veto power but Laos is still required to comply with the three-stage PNPCA process [(1) Procedures for Notification, (2) Prior Consultation, (3) / Agreement] that it is a signatory to in order to preserve the Mekong River as a lifeline to the entire basin. 

Number 3, Vietnam did not show a firm commitment to prevent Laos from building dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream even though it is fully aware that such action is very detrimental to the Mekong Delta. Very early in 2007, 13 years ago, the Vietnamese Government has given the green light for state-owned PetroVietnam to sign a MoU / Memorandum of Understanding with Laos to become the lead investor in the Luang Prabang Project. 

Number 4, to say that being a lead investor in the Luang Prabang Project, Vietnam would gain the initiative in the selection of the design, construction, operation of the project and its multi-faceted regulatory control is unfounded. In reality, the company in charge of the construction of the Luang Prabang is CH. Karnchang of Thailand, the same company that built the Xayaburi Dam.  It did not show a good track record in the past.

Number 5, all is well to say that after the Luang Prabang Dam is built, Vietnam will gain control of its multi-faceted regulatory control and through it lessen the impacts of not only this project but also of the combination of other hydroelectricity projects on the Mekong River’s mainstream. The question is how can it be done when the Luang Prabang is located downstream of the Jinhong  Dam in China and upstream from the Xayaburi, a distance of over 1500 km from the Mekong Delta not counting a number of other dams  that stand in between. The ability to manage and exert positive impacts on the current flow in the Mekong Delta is minimal.  

Number 6, to say that China is ready to replace Vietnam as lead investor in the Luang Prabang Project if Vietnam decides to withdraw fails to persuade. The chance for it to take place is quite low considering China is now energetically switching to solar energy as hydroelectricity no longer offers an appealing prospect. The evidence: the Chinese Sinohydro company has won the bid to build the Pak Beng and Pak Lay Dams.  The Prior Consultation Phase has been completed but China’s enthusiasm with the two projects is sagging and the construction of the Pak Lay Dam has to wait until 2022 to start. (4)

Number 7, hydroelectric dam projects no longer appeal to investors and banks because of their rising costs, diminishing revenues on top of the devastating impacts they exert on the ecosystem and the economic and social burden the inhabitants in the basin have to suffer. Hydroelectricity is no longer inexpensive relative to solar energy. To switch to solar and wind energy is now a global trend.  China, considered the “king of hydroelectricity” several decades back, is vigorously converting to clean, limitless renewable solar energy.  China is leading the world in the manufacturing oflow-cost solar panels which are exported all over the globe.

Number 8, according to Engineer Phạm Phan Long P.E. of the Viet Ecology Foundation, floating solar panels installed on the surface of dam reservoirs offer a feasible alternative to the existing Nam Ngum Dam in Laos or the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. They also negate the need to build new hydroelectric dams like the Pak Beng, Pak Lay, Luang Prabang in Laos or the Sambor, Stung Treng in Cambodia. Switching to solar energy is the way to help the Mekong River avoid being occluded as well as conserve a healthy ecosystem for the entire Mekong River basin. (3)

Number 9, to brandish the Chinese spectre to scare, mislead public opinion with the intention of justifying a flawed decision is nothing but a dangerous exercise in fallacy. With the 2016 drought of the century receding to the past, 2020 will usher in even more disastrous drought and seawater intrusion  coupled with land subsidence and landslide…faced with an increasingly degraded Mekong Delta, Vietnam is still groping for an effective strategy to cope. Evidently the Luang Prabang Dam will be a coup de grâce that the Vietnamese Government administers to its own people.

Number 10, in the eyes of the world, when the Vietnamese authorities allowed state-owned PetroVietnam Power Co. to become the lead investor in the Luang Prabang Dam it committed an infraction of principle, a breach of policy if not a blunder in strategy because  it worked against the long-term interests of the 70 million inhabitants in the Mekong River basin. Among them are included the more than 10 million Khmer living around the Tonle Sap Lake and the 20 million Vietnamese who were eking out a subsistence living in the harsh conditions of the Mekong Delta.

Number 11, Northern Laos is an earthquake zone – witness the 6.1 quake on 11/22/2019 in Xayaburi Province whose tremors were felt in faraway Hanoi. The Luang Prabang Project is located in an active earthquake zone. A quake can bring about a dam breakdown; not only the Luang Prabang Dam but even a catastrophic “series of dam breakdowns.” In any event, Vietnam would be the hardest hit because it is the country located at the river’s mouth. (7)  

Number 12, in building the Luang Prabang Dam, Vietnam will have to answer for the destruction of an entire ecosystem with an exceptionally beautiful landscape dotted with mountains and rivers. This is tantamount to killing the “goose that laid the golden eggs” harming the tourism industry that is providing the impetus for the country’s economic growth.  The old capital city of Luang Prabang so rich in history and a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site needs to be preserved.

LETTER ADDRESSED TO THE 92 DEPUTIES REPRESENTING THE 13 PROVINCES IN THE MEKONG DELTA IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY:

  1. An Giang: 1/ Hồ Thanh Bình, 2/ Nguyễn Mai Bộ, 3/ Chau Chắc, 4/ Nguyễn Văn Giàu, 5/ Nguyễn Lân Hiếu, 6/ Nguyễn Sĩ Lâm, 7/ Đôn Tuấn Phong, 8/ Phan Huỳnh Sơn, 9/ Mai Thị Ánh Tuyết, 10/ Võ Thị Ánh Xuân.           

  2. Bạc Liêu: 11/ Tạ Văn Hạ, 12/ Lê Minh Khải, 13/ Lại Xuân Môn, 14/ Trần Thị Hoa Ry, 15/ Nguyễn Huy Thái, 16/ Lê Tấn Tới. 

  3. Bến Tre: 17/ Trần Thị Thanh Lam, 18/ Lưu Bình Nhưỡng, 19/ Đặng Thuần Phong, 20/ Nguyễn Việt Thắng,  21/ Nguyễn Thị Lệ Thuỷ,  22/ Cao Văn Trọng, 23/ Trần Dương Tuấn. 

  4. Cà Mau24/ Dương Thanh Bình, 25/ Bùi Ngọc Chương, 26/ Thái Trường Giang,  27/ Nguyễn Quốc Hận,  28/ Trương Minh Hoàng, 29/ Trương Thị Yến Linh, 30/ Lê Thanh Vân.          

  5. Cần Thơ: 31/ Trần Thanh Mẫn, 32/ Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân UVBCT,  33/ Trần Thị Vĩnh Nghi [TP Cần Thơ],  34/ Nguyễn Thanh Phương, 35/ Nguyễn Văn Quyên,  36/ Trần Quốc Trung, 37/ Nguyễn Thanh Xuân [TP Cần Thơ].

  6. Đồng Tháp: 38/ Ngô Hồng Chiêu, 39/ Trần Văn Cường,  40/ Nguyễn Thị Mai Hoa, 41/ Phạm Văn Hoà, 42/ Lê Minh Hoan, 43/ Trần Trí Quang, 44/ Lê Vĩnh Tân, 45/ Huỳnh Minh Tuấn.

  7. Hậu Giang: 46/ Phạm Hồng Phong, 47/ Phạm Thành Tâm, 48/ Huỳnh Thanh Tạo,  49/ Nguyễn Thanh Thuỷ,  50/ Đặng Thế Vinh.

  8. Kiên Giang: 51/ Nguyễn Thị Kim Bé, 52/ Châu Quỳnh Giao,  53/ Bùi Đặng Dũng, 54/ Lê Thành Long, 55/ Nguyễn Văn Luật, 56/ Nguyễn Thanh Nghị, 57/ Hồ Văn Thái, 58/ Huệ Tín. 

  9. Long An: 59/ Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, 60/ Trương Hoà Bình UVBCT, 61/ Phan Thị Mỹ Dung, 62/ Lê Công Đỉnh, 63/ Trương Phi Hùng, 64/ Hoàng Văn Liên, 65/ Trương Văn Nọ, 66/ Đặng Hoàng Tuấn.

  10. Sóc Trăng: 67/ Hồ Thị Cẩm Đào, 68/ Thượng Toạ Lý Minh Đức, 69/ Nguyễn Đức Kiên, 70/ Nguyễn Văn Thế, 71/ Hoàng Thanh Tùng, 72/ Tô Ái Vang.             

  11. Tiền Giang: 73/ Võ Văn Bình, 74/ Nguyễn Thanh Hải, 75/ Nguyễn Hoàng Mai, 76/ Nguyễn Trọng Nghĩa, 77/ Nguyễn Minh Sơn, 78/ Tạ Minh Tâm, 79/ Lê Quang Trí, 80/ Nguyễn Kim Tuyến.

  12. Trà Vinh81/ Thạch Phước Bình, 82/ Ngô Chí Cường,  83/ Tăng Thị Ngọc Mai, 84/ Hứa Văn Nghĩa, 85/ Nguyễn Thiện Nhân UVBCT, 86/ Trần Thị Huyền Trân.

  13. Vĩnh Long87/ Lưu Thành Công, 88/ Trần Văn Rón, 89/ Phạm Tất Thắng,  90/ Nguyễn Thị Quyên Thanh, 91/ Đặng Thị Ngọc Thịnh, 92/ Nguyễn Thị Minh Trang. (8)

What needs to be done, call a meeting of the plenary session in the National Assembly to hear the testimony of the top leadership of PetroVietnam Power. All pros and cons of the Luang Prabang Hydroelectric Project will be presented and discussed. The National Assembly will decide or make recommendations on whether PetroVietnam Power Co. should use the people’s tax money to invest 38% in this project costing more than US$ 2.3 billion.


Picture 3_ Left: The 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta. In addition to thetwo main stream dams Xayaburi and Don Sahong; the Luang Prabang will be the third largest dam in Laoswith state-owned PetroVietnam as the lead investor. This is to show that Vietnam is both the victim, as well as the perpetratorin the death of the Mekong Delta. Right:drawing of caricaturist Babui.

The author’s opinion, the Mekong Delta is staggering from the wounds inflicted by various sources: the series of dams built upstream, climate change, as well as unsustainable development plans. Now, the construction of the Luang Prabang, the largest main stream dam in Laos, with PetroVietnam Power Co. as the lead investor, will wreak havoc on an already fragile ecosystem of the Mekong Delta.   The excessively high economic and social costs the 20 million inhabitants of the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta – whom you are representing – must pay can be seen plainly in each furrow they plow, every sip of water they take, even each bowl of rice, dish of fish they eat.

Vietnam needs to cancel its investment in the Luang Prabang Project using all the soft power be it political, diplomatic, economic…at its disposal. [it should be noted that the Vietnamese Communist Party holds considerable influence over the Lao Communist Party] Vietnam must start immediately a concerted effort to put a stop to all the dam projects on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos. This is both a challenge as well as opportunity of historic proportion, a cry of conscience that you and the National Assembly need and must act upon immediately. With the prospect of renewable energy – solar and wind – gradually replacing hydroelectricity, the Vietnamese people would be better served if Petro Vietnam Power Co. transfer the money earmarked for the Luang Prabang Project to invest in solar energy. This decision does not only comply with the “wishes of Heaven” - to quote a phrase used by Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc - but it is in accordance with the trend of the time and in harmony with the “way” of “heaven, earth and man”   

With the current political map, it will not be up to the Vietnam National Mekong Committee but you the Deputies going all the way up to the Politburo and Government to show the determination to save not only the Mekong Delta but also a strategic regional outlook to force the hand of the MRC to fulfill its international obligation in accordance with the spirit of the Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin 1995. In that way we can save the Mekong River as the lifeline of the 70 million inhabitants in the entire basin as well as the food security of Vietnam and the world.

NGÔ THẾ VINH
Carlsbad Desalination Plant,
California, January 14, 2020


Author crossing the Mekong in Northern Laos
near site of  projected Luang Prabang Dam

THAM KHẢO:

  1. Laos’ Luang Prabang Dam Could Begin Construction in 2020, Ahead of Schedule, RFA 2019-12-30, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/dam-thailand-12302019141418.html

  2. Did Vietnam Just Doom the Mekong?By Tom Fawthrop, Nov 26, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/11/did-vietnam-just-doom-the-mekong/

  3. Can Nam Ngum solar replace Mekong hydro in Laos? Pham Phan Long P.E, Nov 1, 2019 http://vietecology.org/Article/Article/1343

  4. Vietnam Utility Dares Mekong Devastation. David Brown, AsiaSentinel  Dec 22, 2019https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/vietnam-utility-mekong-devastation/

  5. Với Dự án Luang Prabang từ 2007 Việt Nam đã quy hàng chiến lược thuỷ điện của Lào. Ngô Thế Vinh. Oct 10, 2019 http://vietecology.org/Article/Article/1341

  6. Lào lấn tới với thuỷ điện Luang Prabang và ứng phó cho Việt Nam. RFA phỏng vấn Bs Ngô Thế Vinh. Nov 11, 2019, http://vietecology.org/Article/Article/1345

  7. Thuỷ Điện Luang Prabang Trên Vùng Động Đất Bắc Lào. Ngô Thế Vinh, Viet Ecology Foundation, 25.11.2019
    http://vietecology.org/Article/Article/1347

  8. Danh sách 494 Đại biểu Quốc hội Khoá XIV Nhiệm kỳ 2016-2021. TTXVN
    https://infographics.vn/dai-bieu-quoc-hoi.vna

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