At least 1,000 families from 20-some villages in northwestern Laos' Xayaburi province will be forced to relocate if infrastructure officials move ahead with plans to build a fourth hydropower dam on the Lower Mekong River, a provincial official said Monday.

The Pak Lay hydropower project is located downstream of the Xayaburi dam, which is now in the final stages of completion. It will be built approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Thai border.

Officials have already completed surveys in two of the villages where more than 400 families live about how the building of the Pak Lay dam would impact them, said the official who requested anonymity.

All of those families will be relocated, he added.

The Pak Lay dam was studied for many years, but we haven't done anything yet, he said. We studied the impact it will have on the environment and villagers, and if it is built, it will impact people downstream in more than 10 villages and upstream in about five or six villages.

Officials have not yet finished collecting information from the other villages, he said.

Most people are not happy with this dam project because they will be relocated to new places, but they still don't know where and when, the official said.

No prior consultation yet

Daovong Phonekeo, director of policy and energy planning at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, told RFA on June 15 that officials have not yet started the process of consultation prior to construction of the Pak Lay dam.

The 1995 Mekong Agreement � signed by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam � requires the countries to follow procedures for notification and prior consultation for hydropower dam projects on the Mekong River, such as conducting transboundary impact assessments and holding discussions among member countries.

Phonekeo, one of the officials in charge of dam building in Laos, also said that two other hydropower dams that the government is building � the Xayaburi, which is 80 percent complete, and the Don Sahong, which is 60 percent complete � have not significantly affected the environment and villagers.

About 2,100 people were relocated during the construction of the Xayaburi dam, approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Xayaburi town. Seventeen families had to move during the building of the Don Sahong dam located in the Siphandone (Khone Falls) area of southern Laos less than two kilometers (1.24 miles) upstream of the Laos-Cambodia border.

On June 13, the Lao government submitted notification for prior consultation about its intention to build the Pak Lay dam to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental organization that works with the governments of the four parties to the Mekong Agreement to supervise development along the waterway.

The Pak Lay dam, which will operate year-round and is expected to produce 770 megawatts of electricity, is the fourth Mekong mainstream dam to be submitted to the prior consultation procedure.

Another hydropower project, the proposed U.S. $2.4 billion Chinese-backed Pak Beng dam, is expected to be the third large-scale hydropower project built by Laos on the Mekong mainstream and will likely take five years to complete. Laos plans to sell the electricity generated by the dam to neighboring Thailand.

Environmental watchdog International Rivers has estimated that 6,700 people will have to be relocated to build the Pak Beng dam, with 25 villages in Laos already directly affected by work being done in preparation for its construction.

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