Mekong Utility Watch

A damming indictment

The Irrawaddy
August 9, 2006

More than 30 dams planned across mainland Southeast Asia will bring electricity, population upheaval, food shortages and ecological destruction.


Strange things are happening along the mighty Mekong, Southeast Asia’s longest river, which sustains 60 million people on its 2,610-mile (4,200-km) journey from Tibet to the Vietnamese coast.

The river’s flow has begun fluctuating wildly as it courses through the borderlands of Thailand and Laos, washing away fertile farming land and scores of homes.

The cause is not global warming-induced weather change, nor glaciers melting in the Himalayas, but China’s steamrollering economic growth, say environment protection campaigners.

Chinese engineers are building eight hydroelectric dams along the Mekong in China, where it is called the Lancang, blasting away rocky rapids in order to tap the river’s energy for electricity generation and transport.

These alarming developments are just a small segment of a multibillion dollar region-wide effort to harness rivers, threatening to unleash enormous human and ecological problems which will far outweigh the benefits, say environmentalists. Tens of thousands of people – mostly ethnic minorities living in isolation – face forced displacement, and the ecological damage could be unprecedented, undermining food supplies. … The financial cost alone of building dams is often unjustified by the return. Probe International, a Canada-based anti-dam campaign body, says China’s second-largest hydroelectric scheme, at Ertan in Sichuan province, which displaced 46,000 people, is losing $15 million a year selling electricity below cost and has had to be bailed out by the Bank of China to help repay $1 billion in World Bank loans.

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