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
Rasi Salai Dam
From: Many areas are flooded while others remain parched | Thailand PRD 6 August 2015:
Meanwhile, Sisaket residents are still coping with the drought crisis as the amount of water in the Rasi Salai Dam is at a critical level. Only one of the sluice gates is opened to release water into the streams, in order to conserve the remaining water.
From: RID pushes two new water diversion bids | Bangkok Post 18 July 2015:
[Mr Thanar said] the other project would divert water from the Mekong River to the Chi and Mun rivers in the Northeastern region. The project starts from Chiang Khan district in Loei where water from the Mekong River would be diverted into a new, 100-km canal which will be dug under the project.
The canal will be the water course sending the water into the two rivers in the Northeastern region. The project could feed more water into Ubolratana dam in Khon Kaen and nearby reservoirs. Upper Northeastern provinces will also reap benefits from the project such as Nong Bua Lam Phu and Loei.
The projects, under the department’s 10-year plan, will be forwarded for approval to the National Water Resources Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in its first meeting next Wednesday. The committee was set up last Wednesday, said Mr Thanar.
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.
But while China presents hydropower as clean energy, with dams causing little or no environmental impact, the reality is very different. Like any form of energy production, there are trade-offs. Dams can be cleaner and cheaper than burning fossil fuels, but they inevitable displace people, threaten livelihoods, and by submerging farmland and natural habitats they affect food security and destroy ecosystems.
And building so many dams has caused significant environmental and social damage in China. The enormous Three Gorges Dam displaced 1.24 million people, negatively affecting livelihoods that depended on the flood-pulse nature of the Yangtze river. The Lancang river (also known as the Mekong) has five dams in operation and plans for a cascade of up to 20. The Lancang Cascade allows China to control the quantity of water reaching the Lower Mekong Basin, especially in the dry season, which is vital to the livelihoods, food security and economies of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and to a lesser extent Thailand. The dams also alter the timing and size of the river’s flood-pulse characteristics, preventing sediment and nutrients from restoring floodplain farmland and also affecting river fisheries.
China is also exporting its hydropower expertise, with around 300 projects in 78 countries under construction by Chinese state-owned hydropower companies such as Sinohydro Corp and Dongfang Electric Corp. In the Lower Mekong Basin, Chinese state-owned firms are building at least 30 dams in Myanmar, 14 in Laos, seven in Cambodia and three in Vietnam. The opportunity to finance, develop, build and contract out this work is an enormous opportunity for China to increase its political influence, develop trade links, and funnel huge profits into its treasury through its state-owned firms.
via Chinese hydropower electrifies southeast Asia, but at a cost.
The Don Sahong hydropower project is not on the Mekong mainstream, according to an engineer working with the developer of the proposed power plant in the far south of this province. Hou Sahong is one of many Mekong River channels in Champassak province. Mega First Corp Berhad hydropower engineer, Graeme Boyd, on Monday cited four reasons why the project should not be considered a mainstream dam – first and foremost that it would not block the Mekong across its full width, instead stretching across one of many channels. Boyd was in Champassak to discuss the US$723.1 million project with more than 100 delegates from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, representatives from the Mekong River Commission (MRC) development partners and non-government and independent organisations and media from the region, as well as to make a site visit. The dam is being built on the Hou Sahong channel, which runs the width of Don Sahong island. About 15 per cent of the Mekong\’s flow will pass through the 260-megawatt run-of-river dam on average. “The fact is that Hou Sahong is only one of many channels of the Mekong River. It only takes about 15 per cent of the flow of the Mekong, while a mainstream dam takes 100 per cent of the flow,” Boyd said. “Really, the Don Sahong project cannot be considered as a mainstream dam because it does not span the whole of the Mekong River.” Boyd said just 8 per cent of the river\’s sediment load would pass through the dam, as opposed to 100 per cent in a mainstream dam. He said other channels in the Siphandone area would continue to act as natural passages for flood flows, sediment and fish. via Sahong dam not on Mekong mainstream: engineer – ANN.
KHON KAEN – The International Silk Festival, “Pook Xiao” Tradition and Red Cross Fair 2013 is set to become the hub of silk cultural exchange and trading in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).
Highlights of the show will include the double-bill international seminar and business matching event entitled “Mekong Silk Road in the GMS”, sericulture and silk weaving exhibitions, silk fashion show and cultural performances from six GMS countries – Vietnam, Lao PDR., Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and China’s Guangxi and Yunnan provinces.
Dr. Narongchai Akrasanee, Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Mekong Institute, will address the opening of the “Mekong Silk Road in the GMS”, which will be held from 27 to 28 November, 2013, while His Excellency Shigekazu Sato, Japan’s Ambassador to Thailand, will deliver a keynote speech.
Sericulture and silk experts from the GMS countries will discuss on various topics including the Importance and Productivity of Silk to the Global Market, Silk Trends and Prospects in the ASEAN Market and Silk Trading in the GMS during the international seminar day to be held at Rachawadee Resort and Hotel in Khon Kaen City on 27 November. Delegates will inspect three sericulture and silk production centres, discuss business, and convene on the establishment of a Mekong Silk Road in the GMS network during the business matching day, which follows on 28 November.
The International Silk Festival, “Pook Xiao” Tradition and Red Cross Fair 2013 will take place in front of Khon Kaen City Hall from 29 November to 10 December, 2013. The 12-day show has been scheduled to be filled with educational and recreational activities as well as shopping opportunities.
via Khon Kaen welcomes the International Silk Festival.
The Mekong is also the natural habitat of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
The 4,000 islands region, as it’s known, is home to one of world’s biggest Irrawaddy dolphin pools — a whopping 11 individuals.
Foreigners come to munch fried rice, dangle their feet in the tepid chocolate-colored waters and watch these vanishing mammals swim just 50 feet from the riverside. Set amid the lush rain forest, emerald rice fields, homes on stilts and golden-roofed Buddhist pagodas, it’s hardly surprising that this region is attracting tourists.
At least for the moment.
With the hush of waterfalls in the back, it’s a sublime experience, even for locals like Kem At, who operates a slow-moving tour boat big enough for 10 tourists to squeeze in.
“The Mekong dolphin doesn\’t jump,” At patiently tells tourists, smiling as he watches one of the dolphins cut the surface.
This month, workers will begin constructing a 100-foot-high, 256-megawatt dam that will eventually tower over the river, according to a communiqué filed by the Communist government.
Within the next year, scientists say, these dolphins will almost certainly be wiped out. Soon after, millions of fish in southern Laos will perish as well.
via New Mekong dam will soon wipe out endangered Irawaddy dolphin, enviros say | GlobalPost.