News / Asia

Laos Dam Project Tests Credibility of Mekong River Commission

Border sign on Mekong River
Border sign on Mekong River
Daniel Schearf
Ministers of lower Mekong River nations gather in Laos this week for annual meetings of the Mekong River Commission.  The MRC, which facilitates management of the river's resources, says they are likely to discuss the controversial Xayaburi Dam project - a key worry of environmentalists. 
 
Water and environment ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are in Luang Prabang Thursday for meetings of the Mekong River Commission.
 
The commission was formed in 1995 to better manage the river's resources, but environmental activists say its relevance is being tested by a controversial hydropower dam.
 
Laos’ dam in Xayaburi province would be the first on the mainstream of the lower Mekong and environmental activists worry it could damage the river and affect the millions of people who live alongside it.
 
At the last MRC meeting, Cambodia and Vietnam asked for a delay to study its environmental impact. Instead, Laos moved ahead with project-related construction and signed a power purchasing agreement with Thailand.
 
MRC spokesman Surasak Glahan says since then, Cambodia and Vietnam have not pushed the issue within the MRC.
 
“And, up until now, the MRC secretariat has not received further update from the member countries on their view regarding the status of the project consultation," he said. 
 
Lao authorities say they made adjustments to the designs of the dam to improve fish migration and sedimentation, but have yet to make the plans public.  Regardless, Cambodia and Vietnam seem to be accepting the changes and that the project will go ahead.
 
Previous MRC-commissioned environmental studies recommended that no dams be built on the mainstream Mekong for at least ten years.
 
Aviva Imhof is campaign director at environmental group International Rivers.  She says that puts the Mekong River Commission's relevance in question.
 
"If it's not already experiencing a crisis of purpose and confidence, it certainly should be.  Because, this commission was set up to negotiate and ensure that there was balanced and fair development of the river and management of the river and yet one country appears to be moving forward without really following the procedures that were agreed upon," she said. 
 
Almost all the electricity from the Xayaburi will be sold to Thailand.  A group of Thai activists are suing Thai energy authorities in hopes of stopping the project.
 
Laos plans to build several more dams on the Mekong in hopes of becoming the so-called “battery of Asia.”  
 
Downstream countries worry the dams could affect key industries. Vietnam's rice production is tied to the river while Cambodians source about 80 percent of their protein from the Mekong. 
 
Some estimates say as many as 20 or more fish species could be wiped out if the dam goes ahead, although most would be larger fish so food security would not be drastically affected.
 
Marc Goichot is with the World Wide Fund for Nature and based in Laos. He says iconic species such as the Mekong Giant Catfish could become extinct.
 
"There are so many species in the Mekong and some of them are not even described yet.  And, we might lose them before we describe them.  It is also very important because the Mekong is probably also one of the places in the world where there is the strongest link between biodiversity and livelihood," he said. 
 
Goichot says the WWF is not against hydropower, but encourages Laos to pursue less risky projects to meet its energy needs.
 
Impoverished Laos says selling hydropower to its neighbors will help it get out of poverty.
 
However, International Rivers’ Imhof says dam projects almost always leave people worse off as they are deprived of natural resources.
 
"And, there's been very little evidence so far that the benefits of the revenue that's been generated from these projects is actually trickling down to those communities that have been most effected," he said. 
 
Environmental activists say part of the problem with dam construction is that not much is not known about the effect on a river until it is completed.  
 
China is the only country that has built hydropower dams on the mainstream of the upper Mekong.  Beijing has faced criticism for sharing little data with downstream neighbors or discussing plans for future dam construction.
 
Ed Grumbine is a guest specialist on biodiversity at China's Kunming Institute of Botany.  Speaking via Skype, he tells VOA lower Mekong countries seem to be following China's model, regardless of future consequences.
 
"The data that we have right now shows that there will be significant impacts from the cumulative operation of China's hydropower dams.  The Chinese government does not agree with those surveys.  But, then, China has not played ball with the lower Mekong states up to this point," he said. 
 
Grumbine says, to meet their energy needs, Lower Mekong nations should focus on improving energy efficiency, reducing demand and developing alternative energy.
 

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
January 15, 2013 7:34 PM
hydropower is proved to be the cleanest power. Quebec and BC in Canada both generate more than 90% of their electricity from hydro dams. China is benefiting from hydropower too. Those people around the dams greatly improved their life by receiving compensate from government. They used to live in remote mountain villages where are hard to have any economies. Now government move them out, give them house, land and electricity. VOA should report this facts!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More