Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Laos Begins Construction of Mega Dam

Laos has started construction on a $3.5 billion dam on the Mekong River. The Xayaburi dam, paid for by a Thai company,  is expected to boost development in Laos (one of South-east Asia’s poorest countries) through the generation and export of electricity (Thailand has pre-bought a majority of the electricity). 

Cambodia and Vietnam, which are located downstream from Laos, have expressed concerns that the dam will negatively affect fish populations and the fishermen who depend on them. Environmentalists are also wary of the construction, as the large dam will certainly have a range of impacts on both wildlife and physical processes (such as sediment deposition). In response to criticism, $100 million in modifications have been made to the original design. Included are ladders to aid fish traveling upstream and flaps to allow some sediment flow. The opposition, however, maintains that construction should not begin until further studies are conducted on the potential impacts of the dam. The construction of several more dams is proposed on the Mekong (in China, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia).

Traditionally, countries located on the Mekong have consulted each other prior to any development on the river. Laos insists that they have dealt with the objections voiced by Cambodia and Vietnam. Deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong said, “we can sense that Vietnam and Cambodia now understand how we have addressed their concerns.” There has not yet been a formal reaction from Cambodia or Vietnam.

It seems that Laos is pushing ahead aggressively with construction. There is probably pressure from the Thai company paying for the dam as well as the pressure of developing a poverty-striken economy. The poorly studied consequences of this dam could affect the livelihoods and food supply of millions of people, and the magnitude of such impact leaves little room for argument in favor of immediate construction.

Read the full story here

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