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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid