Posts Tagged ‘southeast asia dams’
I’ve stressed repeatedly that the Mekong River, one of the world’s greatest rivers which provides food, water and transportation for tens of millions of people in mainland Southeast Asia, is under grave threat from a string of hydropower projects as well as other potential development, demographic and climate-change related pressures.
A fierce debate occurred last month at the recent Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting between Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand over Laos’ Xayaburi dam – a project Vientiane is choosing to move forward with despite the lack of regional consultation required. The project and the controversy surrounding it has important implications not just for the Mekong River, but sustainable development in the Southeast Asia more generally.
I’ve penned an op-ed published in a Malaysian newspaper setting out a series of steps for riparian nations to take. The recommendations cover not only Laos, but China, which has already built several dams upstream and is still not part of the MRC, Thailand which is going to get most of the electricity from the Xayaburi project, as well as other donor countries and institutions.
I won’t re-publish the whole article here, but I wanted to highlight one of the recommendations I made.
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand should recognise that while they have a sovereign right to develop their economies, they must also ensure that dam projects are backed up by adequate input and research and adhere to obligations they have previously signed to.
For instance, Laos, a landlocked and poor country, may view hydropower as a gateway to development. But since Vientiane already agreed in December 2011 to postpone a decision on the Xayaburi pending further study, starting it now will violate that commitment as well as the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which requires regional consultation for development projects.
Even if countries decide to go ahead with dams, the process by which decisions are made and they are eventually built needs to be fair and inclusive. Proper research and analysis should be conducted and diverse interest groups must be adequately consulted. Equally important, government officials should have the adequate capacity to conduct these assessments and the necessary impartiality to resist being captured by powerful commercial interests.
Obviously, all this is not new and is easier said than done. But it is worth re-emphasizing what is at stake here and how countries can help overcome what might be a lingering crisis over the horizon. And that framing the issue in terms of the economy vs. the environment won’t help us get there.
You can read the full thing here.
I’ve published a piece on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia blog, Asia Unbound, regarding the problems big dams have been running into in Southeast Asia over the past couple of weeks. I look at three cases in particular: the fighting that has erupted in Burma’s northern Kachin state where Chinese companies are building a series of dams; the admission by Sinohydro, China’s largest dam builder, that the construction procedures it used to build Malaysia’s Bakun Dam (soon to be the largest dam in Asia outside China), were flawed; and Laos’ decision to press ahead with construction its Xayaburi dam in violation of an earlier agreement to suspend it amid concerns by downstream countries.
You can read the full thing here. I reiterate that the point of this article is not to argue that hydropower should be ruled out as an option for countries to pursue – whether it be otherwise poor and landlocked countries like Laos or power-hungry nations like China. But while hydropower is a cleaner, renewable energy source, there is no silver bullet in terms of energy options. Therefore, recognizing the risks of large dams, whether it be tied to political, safety or other trans-boundary issues, is important as countries and companies embark on such projects.