MRC talks over Laos Mekong dam project reach a dead end

Don Sahong hydropower dam could threaten the livelihoods of thousands; dispute will now be submitted to the Mekong River Commission Council

No agreement was reached during talks this week over a dispute regarding the Don Sahong hydropower dam project in Laos. Following the failure to find a solution during the negotiations, which were conducted by the four members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the issue will now be brought to the MRC Council, the Commission’s highest governing body.

The talks were called for by Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos’ neigbouring countries which share the lower Mekong. They argued that Laos had failed to comply with the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which mandates prior notification and consultation of riparian states for certain projects.

All three neighbouring countries have asserted that Laos is obliged under the Mekong Agreement, and its associated procedures, to submit to prior consultation. Laos maintains that the dam is not strictly located on the mainstream of the river.

A statement by the MRC Joint Committee, which comprises representatives of the four member states, said that “[Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam] raised particular concerns on the project’s potential impacts on fish migration routes as the Hou Sahong has been the major migration channel for fish to migrate in the dry season”.

Because no consensus was reached during this week’s discussions, the matter will now be presented to the MRC Council, which is comprised of the water and environment ministers of the member countries. The Council will determine whether or not it considers the dam to be located on the Mekong’s mainstream.

However, the Council, whose function is to “provide guidance” and to “resolve issues and disputes referred to it”, does not have the power to legally oblige Laos to abide by its decision and halt construction on the dam. A final course of action available to member states is international arbitration, the outcome of which would be legally binding.

The MRC, set up in 1995 pursuant to the Mekong Agreement, is an inter-governmental governing body overseeing the regional cooperation over the use and development of the Lower Mekong River Basin.

The Don Sahong dam is the second such dam being built by Laos on the Mekong river. The Xayaburi dam, currently under construction in Northern Laos, is at the root of major concerns among environmentalists and world leaders that it could create irreversible and disastrous damage to the ecosystem, biodiversity and populations along the Mekong in downstream as well as upstream countries.

A threat to thousands

Events accelerated and relations grew tenser following Laos’ decision in September 2013 to go ahead with the construction of the Don Sahong dam, with riparian states raising concerns over the project and objecting to the go-ahead given by the Laotian government to Mega First Corporation Berhad, a Malaysian company in charge of the project.

After the announcement by the Laos Ministry of Energy and Mines that work on the dam would start by the beginning of the year, Cambodia issued a formal complaint to the MRC, which protested that Laos is moving ahead with the dam without first consulting its neighbors. In addition, At least 19 NGOs in the region have written to the prime ministers of the four lower Mekong countries—Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam— calling on them to suspend the project until further studies are conducted.

Environmental groups have been critical of the project. International Rivers, a California-based NGO which monitors dam activity around the world, claims that the Don Sahong dam would “threaten to block the only channel of the Mekong that currently allows for year-round fish migrations on a large scale, while also wiping out one of the last pools of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins”, not only upending local ecosystems, but threatening the lifeline of thousands who depend on the fish.

“The dam will create inevitably devastating impacts on riverine communities and dwellers whose livelihoods and food security depend on the Mekong River’s resources such as fisheries”, International Rivers said.

The Don Sahong Dam is a hydroelectric dam. It will generate 260 MW of electricity, most of which will be exported to Thailand and Cambodia, two fast-growing economies in desperate need for energy.

The dam, conservationists say, could potentially cause environmental catastrophes and destroy the livelihoods of fishermen along the river. Laos argues that measures will be put in place to minimize any impact on the ecosystem.


Tripartite Nile Basin negotiations grind to a halt


No deal was reached as Ethiopia’s Water and Energy Minister stresses importance of respecting Egypt’s water needs.

Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said on Sunday that a deal on the implementation of recommendations by an expert panel on Nile River water sharing was not reached during the third round of trilateral meetings between ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Representatives from the three states included Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Moteleb, Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Electricity Moataz Moussa and Ethiopa’s Ministry of Water and Energy representatives.

In a statement the ministry said that two key points were discussed, but that Ethiopia’s stance remains unchanged.

The first point of debate focused on an Egyptian recommendation for the formation of an expert panel with representatives from Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa that would monitor the building of the dam and ensure that the recommendations of independent expert panel are followed. A second Egyptian recommendation called for establishing certain principles guaranteeing the rights of affected states.

Both points were refused.

On Saturday, Abdel Moteleb clarified in his opening statement that these two recommendations were the reasons for holding the meetings and that he had hoped an agreement could be reached.

A previous discussion regarding Egypt’s suggestions was postponed in December, though the three parties agreed on a timeframe to implement the recommendations of the independent expert panel.

The statement concluded that the meetings have ended unless new proposals are presented.

The 2011 decision to start building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has caused some friction in relations between the three Nile River countries over fears that the dam will have a detrimental effect on the water share of the downstream countries. Ethiopia began diverting water from the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile, as part of the construction of the dam.

Egypt’s fears that the Ethiopian dam will affect its current majority share of the Nile’s water. In accordance with agreements signed in 1929 and 1959, Egypt is guaranteed 55.5 billion cubic metres of the estimated total of 84 billion cubic metres of Nile water produced each year.

On Friday, The Reporter Ethiopia interviewed Ethiopian Minister of Water, Energy and Irrigation Alemayehu Tegenu, who said, “Ethiopia could not accept the Egyptian proposal to jointly monitor the dam project.”

Tegenu also said that Egypt is misinformed on some issues regarding the dam and the amount of water that would reach Egypt, and also stressed the need to respect Egypt’s need to use the Nile.

 ”While carrying out our project, we are also aware that the Egyptian people need to use the water of the Nile too. We are asking to develop this resource with a mutual benefit in mind. It has to be known that Ethiopia does not own any irrigable land between the dam and the Sudan, where the water continues its journey upstream. There is nothing that interrupts the flow of water to those upstream. It is used for power generation, after that we have no use for it. The dam will also help regulate the water for countries upstream. The Egyptian people need to know this information,” he said.

The dam project’s Director Simegnew Bekele expressed hope on Saturday that the construction of the dam would be completed in three years and that thirty percent of the construction would be completed within a few months.

He said that the Grand Renaissance Dam would prevent annual floods in Sudan and would help prevent the accumulation of silt at dams in Sudan and Egypt. He added that it would also prevent the evaporation of water from downstream countries, and would provide opportunities for Ethiopia to export electricity to neighbouring states.

Cooperation over controversial Renaissance Dam gets a boost

Announcements by Egypt and Ethiopia suggest willingness to resolve issues with riparian states “in a manner that benefits all parties”.

A series of announcements made in recent weeks by the governments of Ethiopia and Egypt seem to suggest that cooperation over a proposed Ethiopian dam, which until recently had been abated by mistrust and accusations, might reach a breakthrough. Analysts expressed cautious optimism over this recent development, quietly hoping that an agreement might be reached in talks planned to continue in Khartoum, Sudan.

Blue Nile

The Blue Nile runs through three countries: Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. The Renaissance Dam is currently being built on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border

The surge of enthusiasm was generated by announcements by government spokespersons, as well as high-level meetings, in both Egypt and Ethiopia. In Egypt, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in a statement that his country was “keen on cooperating with all Nile Basin countries in a manner that benefit[ed] all parties”. In a highly publicized event in the Egyptian media, the Egyptian president, Adly Mansour, sat down with Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Moteleb to discuss the dam and the ways in which an agreement could be reached between all concerned parties.

This meeting, and the following statement by Mr. Moteleb, in which he expressed “confidence that the third round of talks [would] achieve the aspirations of the peoples of the Nile Basin countries in development and peace”, raised the possibility that Egypt might be willing to change its position vis-à-vis the Renaissance dams, after months of push-back against the Ethiopian plans.

Egypt says it is willing to cooperate to ensure “water security” for all Nile Basin countries.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a proposed dam to be built on the Ethiopian section of the Blue Nile, a major tributary of the Nile. The Nile, which runs through Sudan and Egypt, has two major tributaries: the Blue Nile, which springs from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and the White Nile, which rises in Lake Victoria. The Nile traverses eleven countries, before ending in the Mediterranean sea.

The Renaissance Dam, which is currently under construction in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, is expected to generate 6′ooo MW of electricity, and plays a central role in Ethiopia’s large-scale strategy to increase energy exports. Ethiopia, with a fast-developing economy and population increase, also claims the dam is needed to raise domestic energy supply in an effort to respond to growing demand. The cost of building the dam, estimated at $4.8 bn, would amount to 15% of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product.

The proposed dam has been a major cause of tensions with Egypt in recent years. Egypt fears the dam will affect its water supplies, which rely heavily on the Nile’s waters, raising the specter of a disastrous water shortage. Former Egyptian water minister Mohamed Nasr Allam said the dam, which “damages Egypt’s legal and historical rights”, would be a “disaster” for Egypt, both by endangering its water security and by potentially leading to a struggle for regional dominance. Ethiopia says the dam will not affect Egypt or Sudan.

More worrisome is the possibility for a “water war”, with increasing fricitions spinning out of control and leading to full-fledged military strife. This scenario has alarmed a number of analysts and experts in the region.

As a result, talks have been conducted between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, in an effort to find common ground and resolve the issue.

These negotiations had come across a number of setbacks in recent months: In the summer of 2013, Ethiopia started diverting waters from the Blue Nile, angering Egyptian officials, who fiercely condemned Ethiopia for going forward with its plans “rashly” and “selfishly”, and pushing Muhammed Morsi, Egypt’s then president, to announce that “all options [were] open to protect Egypt’s water security”; a few weeks later, Ethiopia  rejected a request by Egypt to jointly build all stages of the Renaissance Dam so as to make sure that Egypt’s share of Nile water is not affected

The recent announcements seem aimed at quelling fears that the countries will not be able to reach a deal. Any such failure could increase tensions in an already volatile region.

A delegation from Egypt will join Sudanese and Ethiopian delegations in the coming days in Khartoum for a third round of talks to agree on the formation of an experts committee. The committee will be tasked with overseeing the implementation of recommendations made by the International Committee of Experts, who have studied the effects of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam

United Kingdom and Ireland accede to UN Watercourses Convention

With accessions, European neighbours become 32nd and 33rd parties to the UN Watercourses Convention, leaving it a mere two short from entry into force. At the same time, a  vote by Parliament of Ivory Coast makes ratification by the West African country imminent.

Seven days. That is all it took for the tide to turn and for advocates to believe a Christmas miracle could be in the making. What a month ago had seemed wishful thinking could now actually become a reality: the entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC) before the end of the year. Could Santa Clause finally have answered their calls?

With the accession to the UNWC two weeks ago of the United Kingdom and, seven days later, of Ireland, and the imminent ratification of the treaty by the Ivory Coast, it seems like Father Christmas might have one additional present on his sleigh.



On December 13th and December 20th, the United Kingdom and Ireland acceded to the UNWC, becoming the 32nd and 33rd parties to the treaty, respectively. The countries’ governments had expressed their consent for some time already: Nick Clegg, deputy British Prime Minister, had announced his country’ accession to the UNWC in 2012, during the Rio + 20 Conference.

Article 36 of the UNWC specifies that the Convention will come into force ninety days after 35 states have ratified the Convention. Following The UK and Ireland’s accession to the UNWC, only two more instruments of ratification are needed for the dispositions of Article 36 to be fulfilled and the UNWC to come into force.

The entry into force of the Convention would be the culmination of over ten years of campaigning by environmental groups such as WWF or Green Cross International, and academics and politicians from across the globe. Numerous conference and workshops were organized, reports published, and meetings with high-level officials in an effort to overcome the obstacles hindering entry into force of the UNWC.

Ever since the cause was taken by these major groups with the potential to reach a wide audience, the rate of accession has steadily increased, and if the trend continues, the UNWC can be expected to become law in the first months of 2014. Entry into force of the Convention before the end of the year would be the perfect ending to an already incredibly fulfilling UN International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC).

A number of countries are in the final stages of the legislative process to become parties to the UNWC, according to Marie-Laure Vercambre, director of Green Cross’s Water for Life and Peace Program, leading proponents of the UNWC to stay on their toes and to keep the champagne in the fridge. “Entry into force of the Convention, something we have been waiting for for many years, is around the corner” Ms. Vercambre said.

The UNWC is a global legal framework which promotes inter-state cooperation, exchange of information and joint management of transboundary river basins. With the UNECE Helsinki Convention,  which just recently was opened to ratification by non-UNECE members, it creates a legal architecture that edicts the rights and duties of state parties regarding the governance and management of river basins shared with other countries.

The ultimate goal of the UNWC is the sustainable management of shared basins which maximizes and ditributes in an equitable fashion the benefits for all states involved.

Several reasons have been put forward for the slow process of entry into force, including treaty congestion within the UN System; the lack of champions and high-profile actors promoting the UNWC; low awareness of the Convention; and the fragmented understanding of its provisions.

Will the Ivory Coast be the UNWC’s next State party?

One country has already filled the legislative requirements to become party to the UNWC: On November 19th, the Parliament of Ivory Coast, in a historic vote, adopted a law allowing the West African country to ratify the treaty. Ivory Coast, or Côte d’Ivoire, officials will then need to deposit the instrument ratification with the Secretary-General of the UN. Once this is done, Ivory Coast will be formally listed among the Convention’s State parties and will become the 34th State party to the Convention.

Following the vote, Green Cross Ivory Coast President Koffi Mathieu Mahika said: “Ratification and implementation of the UN Watercourses Convention will enable West African countries like Ivory Coast to better share, manage and protect their transboundary basins, like the Volta River. Only eight of the 28 West African transboundary basins currently benefit from a basin agreement. The UN Watercourses Convention will harmonize all the agreements and apply to each transboundary basin, including the smaller ones, which we know will be used more and more.”

Ivory Coast was an original signatory of the UNWC in 1998, but had not ratified it, meaning it was not legally binding for the country, until now.


For the status of the ratification process of the UNWC, inluding a list of state parties and dates of ratification, please follow this link:

For an analysis of Article 36 of the UNWC, please go to Part VII of the Online User’s Guide:

International Year of Water Cooperation comes to an end, with eye on the future

2013 saw many achievements in the promotion of water cooperation, but focus is now turning towards defining the post-2015 development agenda. This article reflects on the lessons of the past year and the promise of the future.

As the closing statements of the closing event of the 2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC) were delivered on December 6 in Mexico City, actors around the world involved in the year-long series of events, programmes, projects and activities breathed a sigh of relief, the smile on their lips reflecting the pride of a job well done.

Michel Jarraud

Michel Jarraud, head of UN-Water, called the IYWC a “success”
Source: ABC News

At the same time, they also acknowledged that the IYWC was only the beginning, and that much remained to be done regarding water cooperation, including active campaigning for entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC), which, since the United Kingdom ratified it last week, is only three documents of accession short of coming into force.

Michel Jarraud, head of UN-Water, the UN agency in charge of  organizing events and coordinating actions around water issues, called the year a “success”, one that deployed substantial efforts to raise awareness about the importance of cooperation and the strengthening of international water law.  But he went on by stating that the goal of securing universal access to clean water and sanitation, one of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), had not been met, and urged leaders and relevant stakeholders to not put their guard down and continue the efforts that had already gone such a long way.

Many at the Closing Ceremony of the IYWC, which took place in Mexico on December 5-6, shared the same sentiments. High-level speakers and participants alike underscored the importance of water cooperation, noting that collaboration between states and with other relevant actors can help to bring about a of climate of trust and lead to wider collaborative and peace agreements. UNESCO officials present at the ceremony stressed the role cooperation plays in preserving water resources and environmental sustainability and economic development and social progress. The concluding remarks of the Closing Ceremony recognized water as a ““a prerequisite in the future development framework”.

Panels organized over the two days of the closing ceremony discussed the achievements, lessons and shortcomings  of the UN Year of Water Cooperation and proposed a roadmap for the future of water cooperation campaigning.

The events which took place throughout the year took on a crucial significance in this respect, enhanc2013 Int Year of Water Cooping awareness of issues specific to transboundary watercourses and offering courses of action to resolve these issues through closer cooperation.

Indeed, the accomplishments of the IYWC were counted aplenty, including the incorporation of relevant stakeholders of all levels in decision-making and consultations; the publication of a number of reports, in an effort to disseminate information as much as possible; reaching out to grassroots activists and actors to help them make informed decision; and the rewarding of advocacy actions and innovative water-management ideas contributing to fulfilling the objectives set by the MDGs on water.

But the main gains of the year has undoubtedly been the the strengthening of water cooperation. Through far-reaching campaigning and the organization of conferences testifying to the benefits of inclusiveness to prevent and resolve water conflicts, the IYWC has successfully promoted dialogue and cooperation. As a result of the persistent promotion of the advantages of information exchange and publication of reports detailing the benefits of cooperation, states have pledged to work closer with all relevant stakeholders, include local populations in the policy-making process, and work to resolve water disputes with other states.

The way forward

Despite the optimistic mood and hopeful words accompanying the Closing Ceremony , there is the feeling that our attention must now be turned to the future,  especially the post-2015 world, when the MDGs are set to expire.

The challenge now is to build on the momentum started with the MDGs and shape a global policy that would bring the world closer to its goals. States, with broad participation from actors from all levels and the help of scientific and academic committees, will seek to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hoping to insert new bricks in the wall of global development.

The definition of SDGs will build on the lessons learned from the successes and failures of the MDGs and outline a global development framework integrated into wider UN agendas.

The SDGs are a series of objectives to be achieved for the post-2015 world, and are to replace the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Under the slogan ‘The Future We Want’, SDGs, when defined, will be targets that every country will commit to hit by a certain date. Similarly to the MDGs, the SDGs are a component of the worldwide drive to build a world in which every individual has achieved a landmark standard of living. The process of defining SDGs was started during the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, which set the process as a priority for the UN policy agenda.

To help states in their work, the UN established the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG-SDGs) and assisting technical committees, which are to present to the UN General Assembly a final document containing their proposal for a list of SDGs.

The OWG-SDGs has already made considerable considerable progress on establishing a water-specific SDG. In a report, water was highlighted as the second-most importance priority for the post-2015 agenda, after food security. Earlier in the year, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, had acknowledged that “water holds the key to development”

This indicates that efforts will be concentrated on defining a strong water-specific objective and that states are willing to deploy the necessary means to implement it.

    The World Water Day 2014, which will focus on the water-energy nexus, is one the main events around water planned for 2014

The World Water Day 2014, which will focus on the water-energy nexus, is one the main events around water planned for 2014

The Technical Support Team (TST), one of the committees assisting the OWG-SDGs, the proposed water SDG should include the following: the guarantee of universal access to clean water and sanitation; putting an end to open-air latrines; emphasizing the water-food nexus and highlighting the link between water and development; including provisions on climate change adaptation; and having clear, realistic, achievable and technical goals.

The endeavors started within the UN will be complemented by thematic consultations with stakeholders at the national, regional, and local levels, suggesting that their interests and proposals will be taken into account and included in the final proposal.

2013 had been declared the ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’ by the UN General Assembly. The goals of the series of events, programmes, projects and activities organised throughout the year were  to raise awareness of the crisis water supplies are currently facing and of the challenges of building effective water governance. The ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’, part of a wider effort to achieve the MDGs, also aimed at bolstering and promoting water cooperation agreements, in the hopes of enhancing access to water supplies and services.

Despite the success of the 2013 IYWC, the current push to define a new water-related goal, and more widely the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2015, reflects the realization of the need to continue the efforts started with the MDGs to define a new development framework. This need has become more pressing in light of the increasingly dire effects of climate change and risks of water conflicts as supplies of water dwindle. It is also a logical consequence of the efforts made throughout the year to put water at the centre of the development debate and to identify access to clean  water and sanitation as a piecemeal of a life of dignity and minimum standard of living.

In addition to the negotiations surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and the proposal by UN-Water of a water goal, a number of events are already planned for 2014, including World Water Day on Water and Energy, the annual UN-Water Conference in Zaragoza, the UN-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award, the World Water Week in Stockholm, and the publication of the World Water Development Report on Water and Energy.

This is whyall the actors involved in the IYWC may continue to smile, confident that their combined actions contributed greatly to raising awareness of water issues and strengthening water cooperation.


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