Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Laos Presses Ahead With Mekong Dam, Ignoring Environmentalists' Criticism

Ignoring criticism that a huge hydroelectric dam could irreparably damage the ecology of the Mekong River, the government of Laos said on Tuesday that it was pushing ahead with the multibillion-dollar project, the first dam to be built on the lower portion of the iconic river.

Laotian government officials and executives of a Thai construction company that is to build the dam are to officially inaugurate the project at a ceremony on Wednesday in Xayaburi, the remote province in
northwestern Laos where the dam is to be located. The electricity from the project will be sold to Thailand and will provide billions of dollars of revenue to Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia. But it has been criticized by scientists who are concerned that the dam may disturb spawning patterns and lead to the extinction of many species of fish that have for centuries been the main source of protein for millions of people along the river’s banks. 

The Mekong River passes through parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. Although the dam is being constructed on a part of the Mekong River that is entirely inside Laos, riparian countries of the lower Mekong signed an agreement in 1995 to consult with one another before proceeding with large projects on the river.

Thai environmentalists say there is a troubling precedent: A dam constructed two decades ago in northeastern Thailand on the Moon Mun River led to the disappearance of nearly two-thirds of the 265 species in the river.

Construction of the dam would begin “right after the ceremony” on Wednesday, according to a Xayaburi Power executive. Much work has already been done. C.H. Karnchang, a Thai company that is carrying out the construction, has spent the past two years building access roads and hauling equipment to the remote site. The New York Times

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