To Dam or Not to Dam the Mekong River

Authorities say the dam would attract investments while conservationists fear its effects

By on December 14th, 2011 14:03 GMT

The great importance of the mighty Mekong river separates authorities and local people in two categories. Some think the river should be dammed to provide electricity and encourage hydropower development.

Other voices warn that a hydro-electric dam of these dimensions will trigger a series of harmful changes for the entire ecosystem and local communities, the Telegraph informs.

Conservationists say that carrying on with the construction plan is an “irresponsible” act while the government states that such a structure represents a great opportunity for Laos to attract and absorb foreign investments that will contribute a great deal to its development.

Despite its significant financial importance, some experts warn that its construction could imply great social and environmental risks and it spreads uncertainties and mixed information.

The same concern is shared both by Vietnam and Cambodia, two countries that have preserved their skepticism ever since 2010, when the Xayaburi dam was first announced.

The structure is supposed to be the first in a series of 11 dams built on the Mekong river and represents a 1260-megawatt hydropower project.

Thousands of people depend on fishing activities to survive and radical changes could put their profit margins at stake. Moreover, experts say the delay of the construction is welcomed, since they believe it helps preserve the balance of vulnerable creatures, like the Mekong giant catfish.

On the other hand, it seems that the controversial project is seen as a major source of renewable, clean green energy aiming to boost local communities. Authorities state that such an initiative, once implemented will considerably raise the people's living standards.

Before announcing a decision, it is likely that the four member countries ask for further studies, aiming to estimate the impact of this massive structure on the environment.

“This is not for Lao people only, but for the benefit of the region and the whole world. Please help Laos develop sustainable hydropower projects and don’t make this more difficult for the poor people of Laos,” declared Viravong, the Laotian government minister, according to The Telegraph.

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