With the livelihoods of 60 million people on the line, science – not guesswork – must prevail.
On November 7, the government of Laos held a ground-breaking ceremony to launch construction of the Xayaburi dam. If built, this massive dam would be the first dam on the lower Mekong mainstream, and could well open the way for 10 more dams currently proposed. It threatens economic development prospects and basic food security for 60 million people, 80 percent of whom depend directly on the river for their food and livelihoods.
The fish that migrate up and down the free-flowing lower Mekong are the principal source of protein for those 60 million people, and are the basis for a fishing industry with an estimated value as high as $7.6 billion annually. And the river’s natural flooding cycles feed agriculture that brings in another $4.6 billion. So the stakes are high.
The governments of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have acknowledged the need for additional research into the unique functioning of the lower Mekong. In December 2011, the Mekong River Commission agreed to conduct further studies on the effects of the Xayaburi dam and 10 other proposed mainstream dams. To date, no studies have been conducted, leaving significant questions unanswered about how mainstream dams will affect migratory fish populations and the flow of sediment that nourishes farmland downstream.