What started as a debate about a hydroelectric dam has become a high profile dispute over the future of food security in the Mekong region. The controversial Xayaburi Dam in Laos has resulted in increasing political tensions and a crackdown on civil society, culminating in the disappearance of a Lao activist in December.
Over 60 million people living in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam depend on the Mekong River. It is the world’s largest inland fishery and the second most biodiverse river, behind only the Amazon. The river’s fish are the main source of protein for millions of people. The river also nourishes some of the region’s most productive agricultural fields. Tourists flock to the Mekong River from across the world, contributing to all four countries’ economies.
Now Laos wants to build nine hydropower dams on the river and sell the electricity to neighboring countries. With the help of Thailand, Laos has already started construction on the first project, called the Xayaburi Dam. The problem is that the dams in Laos will cause significant harm to countries downstream. This puts Laos’ neighbors in a difficult situation. Scientists have concluded that if the dams are built, the food security of millions of people in all four countries will be threatened.