Thailand, the 18th of October 2010: The commission, linking Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, issued the 200-page report on Monday, just weeks after Laos formally notified its Mekong neighbours that it will go ahead with plans for a major dam at Xayaboury near the Thai border.
Listing China, who have currently built or are building eight dams on the upper Mekong, and Burma as “dialogue partners,” the report weighed the potential risks and economic benefits of a Mekong main stream hydropower industry, with the recommendation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) being to defer any projects for a decade.
This echoes the preferred position of the World Wildlife Fund, which had previously warned of the catastrophic consequences that damming of the Mekong lower regions will have on fish stocks in the crucial waterway, including a rare species of giant catfish.
Ten of 12 impending projects for the Mekong lower region are planned by Laos, the Communist government an enthusiastic proponent of hydropower technologies due to the financial benefits gained through selling the electricity to neighbours Thailand and Vietnam.
The SEA recognised the perhaps billion dollar benefit of main stream dams to the Laos economy, currently one of the poorest nations in Asia. However, it also predicted that the loss to fisheries would affect the region to the tune of US$476 million per year.
“In the short to medium term, poverty would be made worse by any of the mainstream projects, especially among the poor in rural and urban areas. The mainstream projects are likely to result in serious and irreversible environmental damage, losses in long-term health and productivity of natural systems and losses in biological diversity and ecological integrity,” according to the 200-page SEA.
Despite advising a deferral on all dam projects for a decade, the SEA did not condemn the damming of the Mekong in its entirety, offering that the Mekong River Commission should investigate “innovative” ways of tapping power from the Mekong that do not involve damming of the entire breadth of the river channel.