Governmental representatives from four Asian countries have agreed to delay talks over the controversial plans for a hydroelectric dam to be built on the Mekong River. Alex Blackburne looks into the story.
As the twelfth-longest river in the world, spanning over 2,700 miles of rural Asia, the Mekong is a vital source of sustenance – both for food and for water – for 60 million people across six countries.
But plans to build a hydroelectric dam at Xayaburi, in Laos, threaten to scupper the essential natural nourishment provided by the river, according to Cambodia and Vietnam – the two countries that sit downstream from the proposed plant.
Along with Laos and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam make up the Mekong River Commission (MRC), with China and Burma observers of the body. The MRC met this week for an overdue deliberation over the proposals, after April’s talks ran to ground.
“The four countries have a consultation process which basically states that no single country can act unilaterally on the Mekong dam”, said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF’s Sustainable Hydropower Specialist.
“Vietnam and Cambodia have big concerns about the impact that the dam will have, notably on fisheries and sediment issues, which would be heavily impacting the downstream population.
“These countries have sat together to determine whether this dam should have the go-ahead signal or not, and the latest news we’re getting is that the four ministers actually said they were not prepared to build the dam on the knowledge they currently have, and that proper scientific studies will have to be done before going ahead with the dam.”
As it stands, Laos is behind the $3.5 billion project, with the prospect of economic acceleration on the horizon if it is passed.
In an attempt to sway their neighbours towards their standpoint, Laos commissioned an environmental impact study which looked at the impact of the proposed dam.
“It was fundamentally leaping too far forward”, Dr Meng explained.
“It didn’t address the main issues properly, so we at the WWF, and many others, pointed out that it wasn’t an adequate environmental impact assessment.
“It was a pretty lousy document, and nothing you would expect from an international consultant.”
Ministers agreed this week to delay Xayaburi dam, the first of eleven proposed dams along the Mekong River, pending further study into the impacts of such a project.
“We absolutely don’t think it’s a good idea, especially considering the knowledge that is currently out there”, concluded Dr Meng.
“The proposed dam is based on so many knowledge gaps, that it would be irresponsible to go ahead with it under the current plans.”
With cheaper and more cost-effective alternative energy production methods available to the MRC members and observers, it is likely the decision will be a negative one for those in favour of the dam building.
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Picture source: Prince Roy