CHIANG RAI – The Development of the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam on the Lower Mekong River in Laos is proceeding with potentially devastating impacts to the food security and livelihoods of 60 million people.
The projects highlight the types of bad decisions and missed opportunities that threaten the world’s freshwater resources.
Upon completion, the US$3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam would make history as the first dam to block the main stem of the Lower Mekong, one of the world’s last untamed rivers. An announcement signaling the construction of the separate 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam is also expected soon, placing the world’s largest inland fishery at risk.
“The Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams are setting negative precedents for the lower Mekong. The short-term gains will be overshadowed by long-term losses to food security, other economic sectors and biodiversity across the Greater Mekong Region,” said Marc Goichot, Sustainable Hydropower Lead with The World Wildlife Federation -Greater Mekong.
The Xayaburi Dam is considered by many scientists and civil society leaders to be one of the world’s most potentially destructive dams because of the serious impact it will have on fisheries for tens of millions of people. The dam will also reduce sediment transit and permanently change the shape of the Mekong River Channel.
Following in the shadow of Xayaburi, the construction of the Don Sahong Dam involves excavating millions of tons of rock using explosives that could damage the hearing or potentially kill critically endangered dolphins located two miles away. The dam will also block the only channel available for dry-season fish migrations on the Mekong River and the millions who rely on it for food and livelihoods.
Recognition of the risks posed by these dams comes on World Water Day as the globe focuses on the importance of water and crucial threats to freshwater ecosystems, food and energy security, and drinking water. The Mekong River is considered the world’s most productive river, accounting for up to 25 per cent of the global freshwater catch and is second only to the Amazon River for fish biodiversity.
Sustainable alternatives to meet Thailand’s power needs do exist. The Thako Water Diversion Project would produce almost the same amount of power as the Don Sahong Dam but with far less harmful impact. Similarly, Thailand’s government could generate the same amount of electricity as the Xayaburi Dam by using sustainable energy sources.
“Better planning and management of river basins is urgently needed to reduce further pressure on our planet and its inhabitants. We are already exceeding the limits of the planet in many ways, but the availability of fresh water will have the biggest impact on food security and energy security for billions,” said Li Lifeng, Director of The World Wildlife Federation’s Global Freshwater Program.
Hydro-power projects should meet high levels of sustainability that pass internationally-accepted, independently-certified environmental impact assessments that are made available to the public.
On the Mekong, The World Wildlife Federation supports a 10-year moratorium on dams along the river’s main stem to allow for adequate environmental impact assessments, mirroring a recommendation made by the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam in 2010.