5,000 kilometer-long Mekong
River begins at the Tibet Plateau and runs through many countries
including China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia before draining itself into
the South China Sea at its delta in Vietnam.
So far, only China has
dammed the mainstream of the Mekong which is known in China as the Lancang River,
while lower-Mekong countries have built dams only on its tributaries.
However, since mid-2006, the governments
of Laos, Thailand and Cambodia have granted approval to Chinese,
Russian and Vietnamese companies to do feasible studies on at least 11 projects
to be built on the Mekong mainstream at Pakbeng, Luangprabang, Sayabouli,
Paklay, Sanakham, Latsua and Donesahong in Laos, at Ban Koum and Pakchom along the
Thai-Lao border, and at Strung Treng and Sambor in Cambodia.
one of the poorest nations in Asia, is seeking to exploit its hydropower
potential to become the battery of East Asia and sell electricity to its developed
neighbors, namely Thailand
groups, including International Rivers, have expressed objection to these projects which they say will threaten
the livelihood of local people and the river’s ecological health, including its
rich fisheries upon which millions of people depend on.
International Rivers’ Mekong Program
Coordinator, Dr Carl Middleton, says his organization recently presented an 88
page-long report to government and donor representatives in Vientiane at an official consultation of the
Mekong River Commission’s Hydropower Program and urged them to explore economic
alternatives to hydropower.
Environmental groups say the 11 proposed
dams on the Mekong mainstream could displace many thousand villagers and harm
hundreds of species including Pa Buk or giant catfish and Pa Kha or the Irrawaddy dolphins.
Lao officials, on the other hand, stress
that these projects are only at the feasible study stage. Laos’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson
Yong Changthalangsy said the government will take a thorough look at the results
of the studies and will not approve any project that is deemed to have
devastating environmental and social impacts.
to our Special Report for more details in Lao.