Mekong: a river rising | The Guardian


The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities

John Vidal’s first stop along the river is the tiny country of Laos. Fifty years ago, Laos began to build a series of giant dams. It was the first chance the country had to generate the electricity and money needed to emerge from deep poverty. But is this demand for clean energy creating ecological and human havoc?

Read more at Mekong: a river rising / The Guardian


6 thoughts on “Mekong: a river rising | The Guardian”

  1. If the world wants clean energy, it must come from somewhere. There is no reason dams in Laos cannot be built with the care of Nam Theung 2, which looked after displaced villagers so well, cleared land of US bombs, provided electricity to remote parts of Laos and brought in hugely needed revenue. It also reduced proportionately that energy used in Thailand produced by coal. The dam across the Mekong in Sayabouli could do even more, for Laos, Thailand, and the world. While land must be flooded for reservoirs, these artificial lakes provide alternatives sources of fishing and other incomes.

    Your article is wrong on points re construction of the first dam (Nam Ngum). It was done in a hurry during the war. Trees and vegetation was NOT cleared, resulting in later problems and death of many fish. The new regime has much more experience and is promoting forestation of mountainsides to compensate (and provide a sustainable hard wood industry). What IS needed is control of bio-fuel planting and rubber plantations. But all in all, the future prosperity of places like Laos IS the future of the world.

    Dr Robert Cooper (resident in Laos since 1980)

    1. Right, Tom, when I say ‘your’ it means ‘the Guardian’s’. To the Guardian, I would say being liberal and ‘green’ is fine, I am myself. But if you (the Guardian etc) wants clean electricity, not that produced by coal (or atomic power) a controlled system of hydro-projects and an international grid is one of the proven means. And, hey, a landlocked country like Laos, with a small population in terms of territory and a poor infrastructure can use those large reservoirs of water: they provide a means of transport between remote villages and catchments of water for irrigation of organic crops. There is evaporation and nobody has yet worked out how much water gets lost this way (the US covers their reservoirs), but with forested hills and mountains to hold water these projects provide the nearest thing yet to a ‘perpetual motion machine’. They also help control what is the main problem for some 70% of the population who remain subsistence farmers: floods and droughts. Sure, be cautious about wildlife and sure resettle those who have to move with reasonable compensation, and sure, make magic tunnels in the dam so the fish can pass through (and even the silt), but don’t unreasonably knock one of the major contributions to alleviating climate change ~ instead learn from Laos, the only Least Developed Country left in East and South East Asia, and a country that itself produces a tiny, probably negative, amount of carbon yet is helping clean up a dirty world.

  2. I dont disagree at all, I think hydro dams have been unfairly maligned by the anti-dam movement in many cases, especially in Asia, and I recognise that Laos for example is in dire need of development, as you describe.

    However I thought this Guardian feature was more notable than most straight “anti-dam” articles because it at least notes these contending factors.

  3. Just one PS, Tom. While the dams are built within Laos and benefit Laos, ALL were built by investing companies/countries (Thailand principally, but also France) which for various reasons would never be able to build them at home. Until this year Laos imported more electricity than it exported to Thailand. The price of such imported electricity is double the price at which Laos sells to Thailand. That in itself is justification for having power sources within the country. The alternative would be coal, of which Laos has plenty.

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