The landlocked southeast Asian country of Laos is going full steam ahead with a series of dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries, despite objections from the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam and concerns from environmental groups.
Construction is already underway on the Xayaburi Dam, a 810-metre-long and 32-metre-high Laos-Thai megadam, expected to be completed in 2019. Around 95 percent of electricity from the hydropower dam will be exported to Thailand as part of a massive development drive by the communist, one-party state to lift the nation of Laos from the ranks of Asia’s poorest countries.
Along with the immediate environmental effects of such a huge project, hundreds of villagers have been resettled to make way for construction of the Xayaburi Dam. The first group of around 300 people were shifted to Natornatoryai, an arid site around 35km from the river. Despite retraining programs and new homes, those relocated lament that they are unable to earn a living away from the river and that compensation from the dam authorities was withdrawn after one year instead of the promised three. More than 20 families have already left the site to return to the river.
Further downstream, more than 60 million people in the Lower Mekong Delta depend on the Mekong for food, income and transportation. A total of 11 large hydropower dams are planned by the governments of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, while China has already completed five dams on the Mekong’s upper reaches, with another three under construction. China is also the driving force behind a cascade of dams on the Nam Ou River, a tributary of the Mekong in northern Laos.
Environmentalists fear these dams’ impact on fish numbers may have a devastating effect on food security and biodiversity in the region.