Home > Local News, Mekong River > Decision looms on dam for Mekong

Decision looms on dam for Mekong

It might be a case of dammed if
they do, dammed if they don’t, writes Thomas Fuller from Houay Souy,
Laos.

Dammed if they do … a fisherman casts a net on the Mekong River. Photo: Reuters
THE
Mekong River is so brown with silt as it passes this impoverished
village, it could be called liquid dirt. For millions of people
downstream, this is the colour of life; the Mekong, teeming with
hundreds of species of fish and rich in minerals, has for centuries
been the lifeline of villages and towns stretching from the rocky
rapids of Tibet to the river’s lazy meanderings in the Vietnam delta.
Today,
the four countries that share the lower reaches of the Mekong River
will announce whether they agree to the construction of a controversial
dam that could forever alter the character and natural diversity of one
of the world’s longest and most bountiful rivers.
The
proposed dam, known as the Xayaburi for the province in Laos where it
is located, is a test case for a 1995 agreement signed by Laos,
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to share the river’s resources – its
fish, water and the minerals carried by the silt that fertilises the
soils of places such as the Mekong Delta. The agreement, which called
for a process of consultation on actions affecting the river, was seen
as a major step towards greater co-operation for countries that were
often at odds during the Vietnam War.

But Laos appears to be undermining the spirit of that co-operation.
All four countries retained the right to build dams with or without
agreement by neighbouring countries. And here at the proposed site of
the Xayaburi dam, work has been under way since November.

A
report published by the head office of the Mekong River Commission, set
up to co-ordinate dam projects, describes ”fundamental gaps in
knowledge” about how migratory fish would be affected by the dam and
estimates the dam’s ability to produce electricity will be severely
compromised within a few decades because its reservoir will fill with
silt.

Thus, critics say, the dam will have
permanent consequences for life in the river, including possible
extinction of larger species, but may only produce several decades of
electricity.

The Laotian government has defended
the project, saying the dam, which would take seven years to build,
will have the same impact as a ”natural waterfall”.

NEW YORK TIMES

Categories: Local News, Mekong River
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