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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora