Dams & Other Obstacles on the Mekong

Dams & Other Obstacles on the Mekong

"Life by the Mekong River" by International Rivers (Photo from Xayaburi Dam site, October 2012)
“Life by the Mekong River” by International Rivers (Photo from Xayaburi Dam site, Oct 2012)

With a massive dam under construction in Laos and other dams on the way, the Mekong River is facing a wave of hydroelectric projects that could alter the river’s ecology and disrupt the food supplies of millions of people in Southeast Asia.

I wrote “Life on Mekong Faces Threats As Major Dams Begin to Rise,” for Yale Environment 360 in February 2014. The story relies on my travels along the lower river from the mountains of northern Thailand to the delta in Vietnam during fall 2013, and interviews with villagers, activists and environmentalists, and scientists.

Here’s an excerpt:

The full slate of potential Lower Mekong dams would produce nearly 14,700 megawatts of power, boosting Southeast Asia’s energy generating capacity by 25 percent. But the dam development is proceeding over the objections of environmental activists, many community leaders, and the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission, testing the commission’s authority and posing a threat to regional cooperation.

River experts say that if the dam-building boom proceeds as planned, it could diminish essential flood pulses and decimate fisheries and riverside gardens that are dependent on variable flows and sediment. That, in turn, would affect the diets and livelihoods of 40 million people dependent on the Mekong.


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