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Don Sahong hydropower project, Laos


The proposed Don Sahong Hydropower Project is located on the Mekong River’s mainstream in the Si Phan Don area of southern Laos, less than two kilometers upstream of the Laos-Cambodia border. The project is one of 11 hydropower dams proposed or under construction along the Lower Mekong River. The dam would be between 30 and 32 meters high and generate 260 MW, mainly for export to Thailand or Cambodia.

Being a land-locked, mountainous country, Laos has few options to diversify its energy sources. The Lao government believes that the hydroelectric energy program will be a source of income for fighting poverty, thereby achieving the so-called sustainable social and economic development of the country. The proposed Don Sahong hydropower project, therefore, is critical part of the Laos government’s hopes to transform the country into “the battery of Southeast Asia,” with revenues generated from exporting power to neighboring countries [6].

The project’s developer is Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB), a Malaysian engineering and construction company. In March 2006, MFCB signed a MoU with the Government of Laos to prepare feasibility studies for the project, and in February 2008 the Project Development Agreement was signed. MFCB obtained this way the permission to enter into advanced negotiations and finalize the project details with the Government of Laos and potential electricity buyers, to be concluded by September 2009. The other members of the Mekong River Commission, like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, were notified about the project only in Sept 2013. By doing this, Laos bypassed the regular procedure of prior consultation which would allow the other countries to discuss together benefits and costs of the project.

Negative consequences of the plant range from impacts on fish population as it would create a barrier, as well as on the hundreds of thousands of people living along the Mekong River and its tributaries throughout southern and central Laos, as well as in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The dam will also have impacts on the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, a species already severely threatened.

The government of Laos had previously proposed the rare ecosystem of the island as a RAMSAR area, which could bring interesting touristic attention on biodiversity and protection of the habitat. A hydroelectric project there would jeopardize such scenario and not make the area eligible for RAMSAR registers.

According to International Rivers, the proposal to develop the Don Sahong project has generated considerable concern amongst the public within the Mekong Region and internationally. In April 2007, as plans for the project first came to light, 28 NGOs sent an open letter to the Government of Laos, the Mekong River Commission and its member governments calling for the project to be reconsidered. An other letter was sent to the Government of Laos in May 2007 by 34 scientists [1], urging decision-makers “to consider the weight of scientific evidence that will show the Don Sahong project to be hugely destructive, such that even the economic (including livelihood) costs outweigh the net benefits – even before the environmental impacts are taken into consideration.”

The Mekong River Commission announced in July 2014 the start of the "Prior Consultation" with the other member states [2], but later on it decided that the process should be undertaken at the governmental level because they could not reach a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project.

Up to Oct 2015, ministerial meetings on the issue are still taking place [5], while Mega First seems to have already signed an agreement with Laotian utility Electricite du Laos to regulate its participation in the hydel project. Per the agreement, Ground Roses Ltd., Silver Acreage Ltd. and Electricite du Laos (EDL) would hold 79%, 1% and 20% shares in the Don Sahong Power Company Ltd., respectively. The company will operate as a unit under Mega First [3].

NGOS and local environmentalists are calling for more adequate studies on the impacts and on the benefits and costs the project would entail for riverine communities, especially downstream the plant [4].

Basic Data

NameDon Sahong hydropower project, Laos
CountryLao PDR
SiteDon Sahong Island, Si Phan Don. In the Lao border with Cambodia
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe power plant is proposed to have a nominal installed capacity of 260 MW, developed by discharging the design flow of 1600 m3/s operating at the rated head of 17.0m. Power output will vary with the seasonal flow variation, as in general terms a particular headwater/tailwater condition will correspond to a particular river flow, thus a particular power output.
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population>100,000
Start Date2008
Company Names or State EnterprisesMega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB) from Malaysia
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Laos

Rest of the Mekong River Commission and member countries (Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia)

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
OtherThe area is recognized by scientists as a critical year-round bottleneck for fish migrating throughout the lower Mekong basin, which local villagers capitalize on to harvest an abundant fish catch. The most significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the Don Sahong Dam would be felt by local and regional inland fisheries
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Development of AlternativesAt first stage, International Rivers, WWF and others are demanding additional impact studies.

Secondly, their final suggestion is to cancel the project and register the area under the RAMSAR convention and encourage small scale tourism and conservation measures.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure

Sources and Materials


Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are all bound by the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Therefore, the obligation to prevent harmful effects (the no-harm principle) as stipulated in Article 7 needs to be strictly respected. This principle is broadly recognized as a general principle of international law. Prior to that, it was reflected in the judgment of the International Courts of Justice (ICJ) in the Corfu Channel case in 1949, which reads: “every State’s obligation not to allow knowingly its territory to be used for acts contrary to the rights of other States.”


Sambo Sok, Meaningful participation? The case of Cambodian fishermen in the transboundary consultation processes for Don Sahong Hydropower Dam (Lao PDR)




Damming The Mekong River: Economic Boon Or Environmental Mistake?

Wikipedia: information about the Don Sahong Dam

The Mekong River Commisssion

Calls for Angkor Beer Boycott Over Laos Dam Investment

International Rivers: Media Kit on the Don Sahong Dam

WWF: More than a quarter of a million people say no to Don Sahong dam

South East Asia Globe

The impending Don Sahong dam has the potential to cause environmental catastrophe and destroy the livelihoods of the area’s daredevil fishermen


Laos dam threatens fishermens' livelihoods

Project has been damned by environmentalists, who say 30-metre barrier will warp the ecosystem.

The Guardian:

Mekong river hydroelectric dam threatens livelihoods and endangered species in landlocked Laos

The Diplomat

The Growing Mekong Controversy

Mekong consultants have exposed serious flaws in the Don Sahong Dam project, which continues regardless.
Mekong river hydroelectric dam threatens livelihoods and endangered species in landlocked Laos


Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam in Mekong

River divide Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

Mega-First's RISKY investment threatens future of Mekong

Comments on Don Sahong Dam’s 2013 Environmental Impact Assessment

[1] International rivers, The Don Sahong Hydropower Project

[3] Hydroworld - Mega First signs agreement for development of Don Sahong hydropower project in Laos

[2] Mekong River Commission on prior consultation

[4] Chiangrai News - NGOs Push for Postponement of Don Sahong Dam on Mekong

[5] Khmer Times - Foreign Minister presses Laos on Don Sahong Dam

[6] The Diplomat - Is Laos Building a New Illegal Dam on the Mekong River?

Other Documents

Khone Falls View on the Khone Falls, site of the proposed hydropower plant. Source: International Rivers

Meta Information

ContributorDaniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB,
Last update27/10/2015



Khone Falls

View on the Khone Falls, site of the proposed hydropower plant. Source: International Rivers