Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dam and be damned

This amount of water, on the Cambodia-Laos border, could become a thing of the past
The livelihoods of fisherfolk and the diet of millions is under scrutiny in Vientiane today when the 4 countries - Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand - meet to consider the merits and give a thumbs up, or otherwise, for the Xayaburi Dam in Laos. It's the first of 11 hydropower dams that are in the pipeline and if the four members of the Mekong River Commission give the go-ahead, there will be very serious impacts on the two countries which rely on the Mekong River for much of their fish stocks, namely Cambodia and Vietnam. Essentially, if the dam gets the green light, environmentalists suggest that up to a third of all Mekong fish could be prevented from completing their migration cycles, which would have disastrous effects on the region's fish catch. Not to mention the impact on the dwindling dolphin population and the millions of people that rely on the Mekong River, Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong Delta for their daily diet. Laos and Thailand want it, Vietnam are dead set against it whilst Cambodia seems to be sitting on the fence. China is already constructing 4 dams higher up the Mekong River and if Xayaburi or the others join the construction frenzy, goodness knows what the outcome will be.
Postscript: The meeting failed to reach a verdict and has deferred a decision to ministerial level later in the year. Vietnam want a 10-year ban on dams on the Mekong mainstream (don't we all), whilst Cambodia and Thailand asked for more information and consultation. Meanwhile, Laos are keen for it to go ahead, so they can sell the electricity to Thailand, who will fund the construction. Let's wait and see what mess the respective government ministers can make of it.

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