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Money, Dams and Power on Mekong River

posted Mar 12, 2017, 12:54 AM by Tim Hawards   [ updated Mar 12, 2017, 12:54 AM ]
Mekong change
Further upstream in Laos the high mountains and steep canyons dictate river flows and this is also changing rapidly with the government in Vientiane relentless in its push for hydro-power development.

Damming the main stream of the region's longest river is a contentious point. Environmentalists are bitterly opposed to dam construction, a key plank in the Lao government's plan to turn their impoverished, landlocked country into "the battery of Asia".

It wants to sell hydro-electricity into neighbouring countries through construction of 11 dams across the mainstream of the Mekong River with another 123 dams to be built along the river's tributaries. 

Laos has just announced the go ahead of its third mainstream dam, at Pak Beng in the north and has tried to allay concerns over traditional fish breeding patterns, arguing fish by-passes would enable fish migration to continue upstream for spawning. Scientists, however, are not convinced.

Anna Green, Chief Executive Officer for ANZ Bank in Laos said infrastructure investment, manufacturing and tourism would figure prominently in driving economic growth in the region over the coming years but countries located along the Mekong would rely on hydro-power to maintain their growth numbers.

“Whilst there are good reasons why NGOs have taken issue with hydro-power development on the Mekong, the political reality is that governments of the region continue to see hydro-power as a clean and sustainable way to develop their natural resources,” she said.

“For that reason we can expect to see more development activity in this space in the near term.”

Green said the involvement of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which was heavily restructured in 2016 after years of mismanagement, could assist in ensuring development is undertaken in compliance with international best practice standards.

“Increasingly governments of the region are recognizing the need to manage their natural resources responsibly and there is a growing understanding of the impact that their immediate decisions about damming will have on the life of their resources and their availability for future generations,”she said.