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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid