Mekong River and its challenges

Updated On: Mar 26, 2009

Environmental issues advocates and the scientific community argue that the Siphandone (Four Thousand Islands) in southern Laos is threatened by a state plan to build a hydroelectric dam only a few kilometres upstream.  

The occasion of the International Day of Action for Rivers has also provoked the activists to launch a protest against this dam project.

One of the aftereffects will be blocking fish migrations and threatening the Irrawaddy dolphins and the giant catfish – both of which are endangered.  

Fishes are the main staple diet of millions in that region. Activists claimed that over 300 species will be affected; others argue that it would affect the normal breeding cycles and put at risk 70% of the fish catch in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Others go much further. They pointed out that some species swim up from the estuary in Vietnam through Cambodia, all the way up to Luang Prabang in northern Laos. And 60 million people are dependent for their food and their livelihood on fisheries.

Aside from environmental concerns, it is also one of heritage. It will also severely reduce the flow to the Khone Falls, Asia's largest waterfall which, on the Cambodian side of the river, is recognised internationally as a conservation site by the UN's wetland conservation body, Ramsar.

On the other side of the argument, however, even respected international institutions like the World Bank and the ADB-Asian Development Bank have both pushed the Laotian government to embrace hydropower development and to supply power to their energy-hungry neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. There are already seven hydroelectric dams in Laos and 11 more dam projects are planned.

The 240MW dam project began in March 2006 when the the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR) signed an agreement with Mega First Corporation Malaysia, to do a feasibility study in the vicinity of the Mekong's Hou Sahong channel, bordering Cambodia.  

A Project Development Agreement was signed in 2008, pending the final decision by the LPDR.


Fawthrop, Tom, "Mekong river hydroelectric dam threatens livelihoods and endangered species in landlocked Laos" dated 15 March 2009 in the Guardian website [downloaded on 16 March 2009], available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/13/laos-hydroelectric-dam

Strangio, Sebastian and Sam Rith, "Lao dams muddying the waters" dated18 November 2008 in the Phnom Penh Post website [downloaded on 16 March 2009], available at http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/component/option,com_jcs/Itemid,5...

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