A story to watch in the coming weeks and months is the push to build dams on the lower Mekong. The proposed Xayaburi Dam, the first of 11 dams planned for the Mekong mainstream, would block fish migration, disrupt the river's ecology and put the livelihood of nearly half a million people at risk.
The environmental and human tragedy would be extreme if this ill-conceived plan goes ahead.
This report from International Rivers gives an excellent summary of the Mekong dam building plans of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It is written by Aviva Imhof, Executive Director at International Rivers.
I worked with Aviva back in the 1990s when we were both with AID/WATCH. We boated together down a Mekong tributary. For the past decade Aviva and her colleagues have done outstandng work to protect the world's rivers.
That Mekong trip was a great privilege. We enjoyed the delights of a river system that is largely in balance supporting local communities and a diverse range of ecosystems.
This week some of Aviva's colleagues at IR broke the alarming news that the Laos government has started preliminary construction work on the dam project and locals are already being resettled, with some paid as little as $US15 in compensation.
There has been some good news about the future of this project. At the inter-governmental meeting in the Laos capital of Vientiane Vietnam provided the leadership this region needs calling for ten-year moratorium on dam construction. Cambodia and Thailand argued that not enough consideration had been given to environmental impacts of the proposed dam. The vocal voice for the Xayaburi to proceed is now largely confined to the Laotian government along with construction companies and other dam backing businesses.
Future energy demands for this region have to be met but the need for this dam on the Mekong cannot be justified. When I worked at AID/WATCH Thailand's electricity utility EGAT was notorious for overestimating local energy demands. It sounds like little has changed with EGAT locked into last century management as they attempt to argue for the Xayaburi Dam while maintaining massive energy reserves. EGAT forecasting has often been spectacularly wrong.
From the outcome of the Vientiane meeting it looks like those old arguments that more dams are justified because of rising electricity demand are not working. The final decision was to defer decision on the project.