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


China Should Join Mekong Commission: US Official

China should join an intergovernmental commission supervising development of the Mekong River to more effectively address environmental and other problems faced by downstream Southeast Asian nations, a senior U.S. government official says.

Aaron Salzberg, special coordinator for water issues at the U.S. State Department, also underlined the importance of political will in ensuring that the Mekong River Commission (MRC) functions as an effective forum in coordinating shared use of the region’s main waterway.

“In the long run, I think it would be good for China to become a full active member in the MRC … sharing data so that the downstream countries actually understand what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen and they can prepare accordingly for those types of things,” Salzberg told RFA.

“China can play an active role in managing their infrastructure for downstream benefits,” he said.

Five dams commissioned in China on the Mekong river’s upper portion have caused rapid changes in water levels and other adverse effects downstream, especially in the four countries of the Lower Mekong Basin—Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos—where tens of millions of people depend on the river for food, water, and transportation, environmentalists say.

China has refused to join the MRC—which comprises the four lower Mekong nations and manages development along the Mekong—although the river’s source is located within the Asian giant’s borders, saying it prefers to negotiate on a bilateral basis to resolve any problems on the issue.

via China Should Join Mekong Commission: US Official.

Proposed Laos dam on the Mekong raises ecological fears | South China Morning Post

Proposed Laos dam on the Mekong raises ecological fears | South China Morning Post

Nineteenth-century Mekong explorers marvelled at the wetlands of Siphandone in southern Laos, a district of spectacular waterfalls, swirling rapids, steep narrow gorges and myriad islets.

Beyond the rapids, a colony of rare Irrawaddy Dolphins still frolic near the Cambodia border.

The dam would cause serious nutritional problems in the Mekong region DR IAN BAIRD

But experts say this ecotourism paradise, known as the \”Four Thousand Islands\” region, could soon be irreversibly damaged by the construction of a hydro-electric dam recently announced by Laos, only a few kilometres from the renowned Khone Waterfall, a major tourist attraction.

The communist government notified the Mekong River Commission [MRC] on September 30 of its plans to launch construction of the Don Sahong Dam next year. The 260 megawatt dam would be Laos\’ second Mekong hydropower project.

The commission is the multi-nation body that supposedly oversees development on the vital waterway.

Concerns about the new dam were raised this week in Bangkok at a forum of 103 Thai NGOs campaigning against it.

via Proposed Laos dam on the Mekong raises ecological fears | South China Morning Post.

Laos seeks to soothe neighbors over Mekong dam – WORLD –

Laos is taking steps to convince neighboring countries of the merits of the planned Don Sahong hydropower project over Mekong River.

Lao government officials organized a site visit on Sunday and Monday so that interested parties could see the site first-hand and get a sense of the natural and social environment of the project area in the far south of Champassak province, some 700 km south of Lao capital Vientiane.

The site visit was arranged after the Lao government notified neighboring countries through the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with development of the 260 MW run-of-river dam, Lao state-run Vientiane Times online reported on Sunday.

More than 100 people are visiting the site of the 723.1 million US dollars project. Plans call for the group to travel by boat to the dam site and walk along the channels through the Siphandone area where the Mekong River flows into Cambodia.

The visit was organized by Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines together with the Lao National Mekong Committee and the project developer, Malaysia\’s Mega First Corporation Berhad (MFCB).

Delegations from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and representatives from MRC development partners, non-governmental organizations ( NGOs), independent organizations and regional media outlets were invited to take part.

The site visit aims to demonstrate that the dam will not be built on the Mekong mainstream, and that Laos is complying with the 1995 Mekong Agreement on sustainable development. The aim of the visit is to provide accurate information regarding Laos\’ decision to develop the project and to gather feedback, said the report.

The main concerns of neighboring countries are fish passage and migration through the area. Senior Environmental Manager of the Don Sahong Hydropower Project, Peter Hawkins, said once the dam is built, fish will be able to use several other channels for upstream and downstream migration.

Some foreign media and environmental activists said Laos is in violation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement as it failed to conduct prior consultation with downstream neighbors before giving the project the go-ahead. Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Viraphonh Viravong, said Laos did not breach the 1995 agreement because it does not regard Hou Sahong as part of the Mekong mainstream.

via Laos seeks to soothe neighbors over Mekong dam – WORLD –

Moratorium Needed on Mekong River Dams – News Watch

Few development schemes pose more serious risks to food security, fisheries, and aquatic ecosystems than the construction of proposed hydropower dams on the main channel of the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Three years ago, in an environmental assessment of those proposed dams, the Mekong River Commission – the body that oversees regional cooperation in the Mekong Basin – recommended that dam construction on the Mekong be halted for ten years to allow time for further study of their impacts and proper consultation among the lower-basin countries – Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

But with work on the Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos now underway, and the Laotian government’s announcement five weeks ago that it intends to proceed with another dam near the Cambodian border, the time has come for the MRC and the international community to take more assertive action to bring a moratorium into effect.

Hanging in the balance are the livelihoods of millions of people, the continued existence of one of the world’s most productive fisheries, the prospects for equitable and sustainable development in the region, and, quite possibly, regional peace and stability.

via Moratorium Needed on Mekong River Dams – News Watch.

Second Lao dam upsets neighbours | Bangkok Post: opinion

When Laos announced its intention to proceed with the Xayaburi hydropower project on the lower Mekong over the objections of neighbouring countries in the Mekong River Commission (MRC), it was feared that it would set a precedent.

Those fears were realised on Sept 30 when Laos challenged the MRC again and started construction of a second dam in Champasak province near the Lao-Cambodian border with little fanfare. The Don Sahong project hasn\’t drawn much attention from the public at large, partly due to the murky question of whether it’s actually on the main course of the Mekong.

Activists, however, are again up in arms crying foul and raising concerns over impacts to the river’s ecosystem.

The MRC says work at Don Sahong began on Friday. If finished, the dam will be built to a height of up to 30m and cut across a section of river about 100m across.

Besides the environmental impact of the dam, the MRC is concerned that by going ahead with the Don Sahong project Laos is directly challenging the rules governing the Mekong put in place by the MRC, which is comprised of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It could be argued that Laos had already crossed that bridge with its decision to proceed with the Xayaburi dam without approval from the MRC, but in that case Laos did at least go through the prior consultation process which requires meetings and consultations between member states.

MRC regulations say that if a member country uses water from the main course of the river during the dry season or diverts water from the main course during the rainy season, it must consult with neighbouring Mekong countries first. Laos did submit documents to the MRC on Sept 30 announcing its intention to start construction of the Don Sahong dam, but did not wait for any feedback before it started work.

via Second Lao dam upsets neighbours | Bangkok Post: opinion.

Dam site is channel not river: Laos – The Nation

Dam site is channel not river: Laos - The Nation

Developing a dam on the “Hou Sahong channel” of the Mekong River in Champassak province does not breach the 1995 Mekong Agreement, a senior government official has said.

Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong made the comment last Thursday, after the Lao government notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with development of the 260MW “run-of-river” dam.

Leading environmental groups and some foreign media have said that Laos is in violation of the Mekong agreement, for failing to conduct prior consultation with downstream neighbours before giving the project the go-ahead. But Viraphonh claimed that Laos abides by the 1995 Mekong Agreement for sustainable development of the river. It calls the Don Sahong dam as “an intra-basin water use” – a category in the agreement under which the developer is only required to notify and not consult downstream neighbours in the MRC, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Viraphonh said Laos did not regard the dam as on the “Mekong mainstream”, which would require prior consultation. He said the Hou Sahong was just one of 17 channels in the Siphandon area and water flow through the channel represented only 5 percent of total river flow.

However, Viraphonh said Laos would welcome discussion on any issues of concern. “We are pleased to take reasonable feedback from our downstream neighbours into account,” he said. Any issues could also be raised at MRC ministerial or senior officials\’ meetings.

Viraphonh dismissed reports that the Hou Sahong was the only channel for fish migration during the dry season. He said there were several channels that allowed year-round fish migration.

“I am confident that the project will have no significant impact on our downstream neighbours.”

The authorities plan to invite representatives from the media, non-government organisations and interested parties to visit the project site soon.

via Dam site is channel not river: Laos – The Nation.

Photo: International Rivers: