Dams are all about tradeoffs. Will retailers in Bangkok accept earlier store closing hours to save electricity? Are consumers in Phnom Penh prepared to trade cheap electricity for higher fish prices? Can Vietnam afford to risk the productivity of its rice bowl? These tradeoffs between water, energy and food are what distinguish a ‘good’ dam from a disaster and are the main topic of discussion at this year’s Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in Hanoi this November 13-14.
“We all enjoy the benefits that come with electric lighting, household appliances and, someday soon perhaps, electric cars”, says Kim Geheb, Mekong Basin Leader for the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food. “But how do we do this without affecting food production and the health of the environment? How do we ensure that rapid, large-scale dam development is fair and equitable? Answers to these questions are at the heart of what constitutes a ‘good’ dam.”
At stake in the ongoing debate over dams in and on the Mekong are billions of dollars in infrastructure development and energy sales. The controversial Xayaburi dam, currently on hold pending negotiations among the four member countries of the Mekong River Commission, will cost an estimated 3.5 billion dollars. In addition to the 30 some operational dams on the mainstream and its tributaries, another 71 projects are slated for completion by 2030.