Nineteen local, regional and international environmental groups under an umbrella called Save the Mekong are calling for an urgent moratorium on plans by the Laotian government to build a new hydroelectric dam which they fear will do irreparable damage to the giant river’s ecosystem.
The Laos government says it expects to start construction of the Don Sahong dam this month near the picturesque Khone Falls, with commercial operation of its 260 MW of power to begin in 2018.
One of the world’s most impoverished countries, Laos has a wealth of natural resources that it is anxious to exploit in a drive to build a more sophisticated economy. With annual per capita gross domestic product a minuscule US$3,100 per year by purchasing power parity, it ranks 176th in the world. The government in Vientiane nonetheless hopes energy sales, mostly to Thailand and China, can put it on the way to lower middle income status and provide jobs outside of agriculture, which currently accounts for 75 percent of employment.