A Dam That Grip Destiny of Mekong River and Million Lives

Posted on November 10, 2012 by


By Som Rina

November 8th, 2012

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on foreign aid. To boost the country’s economy, Laos government has focused on the dam construction in the Mekong river in order to generate more power for the use in the nation, and to sell to its neighboring countries, especially Thailand. According to BBC, Laos aspires to build eight privately owned dams across the Mekong mainstream, trying to become “battery of South-East Asia” (Fisher, 2012).

Xayaburi dam is the largest plan of this country in which the nation is tempted to build on Mekong River, one of the world great rivers. Laos government perceived that the dam will contribute more to its economy. For example, Thailand has promised that if Laos build Xayaburi dam in the lower Mekong river, it will certainly buy 95% of electricity from this nation (Fisher, 2012). A vice-minister of energy and mines of this county said: “Hydropower is a big natural advantage for Laos, if you cannot develop the Xayaburi project, what other choice do we have?” (Worrell, 2012).

Meanwhile, Laos has no financial problem for the construction of Xayaburi dam as it is loaned by at least four banks: Kasikorn Bank, Bangkok Bank, Krung Thai Bank, and Siam Commercial Bank (River).

However, the construction has provoked many countries in downstream and environmentalists to force Laos government to halt the operation. Environmentalists warned that Xayabui hydroelectric dam will strongly affect ecological system and many livelihoods. For example, the construction will block the sediment and fish migration flow. Therefore, according to 1995 Mekong agreement, Laos government has to inform in advance to the countries that signed in the agreement, namely Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, to get their approval for the construction.

However, without any joint consensus in regional level, Laos government decided to resume the construction – defiance the countries in downstream – on 15 March 2012. Quickly reaction, Cambodia called for immediate suspension on the construction, threatening to take Laos into international court if it continues the building of the Xayaburi dam (Tin, 2012). At last, Laos agreed to temporarily halt the construction for further study on May 11 2011 (Asia, 2012).

Serious Impacts or not?

International River, a US-based environmental NGO, said millions of people will suffer from the changes of biodiversity, fisheries and sediment flows. [1] Firstly, it will impact on the fishery production because the fish need to move upstream to spawn their eggs. In rainy season, flood will brings those eggs and fishes back to the downstream river. Therefore, no building of should be built along the way to the upstream. Another significant impact from the dam is that it will block sediment flow. To be precise, a fluvial geomorphologist said since eight dams already exist along the river in China, by combining them with the lower one, about half of the sediment will be blocked, leading to disaster for the delta (Vaidyanathan, 2011). Seemingly, Deltas are the form of the deposition of the sediment carried by the river, so if less sediment flows to the downstream then the delta will erode and eventually sink deeply, jeopardizing millions of households and agriculture. In fact, the delta is home to 17 million people in Vietnam and 2.4 million in Cambodia said James Syvitski, a geologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Is it an acceptable deal?

Every problem is coming with its own solution. Whether it is good or bad solution, it depends on how much advantages it can give. In fact the Xayaburi construction has raised many concerns over the post effects. Thereby, to ease the worry over the dam construction, Laos government has a foreign company from Finland researched on the feasible impacts and looked for resolutions. According to BBC news website, Laos government will let the sediment flow out through the bottom of the dam and will build fish ladders for fish to migrate upstream (BBC news).

However, many experts claimed the building ladder for fish passage does not work effectively since this strategy was used already in Latine America, Africa and Asia. Furthermore, Mekong river stored a large number of fish, so in order that fish can migrate through fish ladder on the middle and lower migratory system will be a hard task. Therefore, the soultion does not work in the mentioned zones. For instance, a statistic made by Barlow in 2008 showed a great number of fish – 200,00 and 260,00 kg of fish – move to upstream (Secretariat, 2011).

We can imagine that many species of fish and different size of them are going to swim pass through the fish ladder. Is that possible for them? Of course, but not for the large fish. Imagine hundreds of people try to walk though a single door, how do you feel?

After being criticized from many environmental experts, Laos has tried to make change on its design to the dam to address the loophole of its solution by revising ‘fish ladder’, said Hans Guttman, chief executive of the Mekong River Commission, the advisory organization that coordinates studies and meetings among the four lower-Mekong countries (Thomas Fuller and Poypiti Amatatham).

Moreover, it assures that as Xayaburi dam is a ‘run-of-river’ hydroelectric dam, increase of erosion will stop once the building is finished. Regarding to this, environmental investigation agency (EIA) said the dam will not affect water quality and the balance of inflow and outflow at all (Secretariat, 2011).

In conclusion, Laos should scale the advantages and disadvantages of this construction. Though it will bring massive gains for its sluggish economy, however the two countries in downstream will confront the loss of economic ground as well as lives of millions people. It may save its country from poverty but millions of people near its border will bear all the poverty.


Anon., 2011. http://www.irinnews.org/Report/92037/LAOS-Decision-expected-on-controversial-Mekong-dam. [Online]
Available at: http://www.irinnews.org/Report/92037/LAOS-Decision-expected-on-controversial-Mekong-dam

Asia, R. F., 2012. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/NE11Ae02.html.[Online].

Fisher, J., 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18686438. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18686438

news, B., n.d. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20203072

River, I., n.d. http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/xayaburi-dam. [Online]
Available at: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/xayaburi-dam

Secretariat, M. C., 2011. http://www.mrcmekong.org/assets/Publications/Reports/PC-Proj-Review-Report-Xaiyaburi-24-3-11.pdf. [Online]
Available at: http://www.mrcmekong.org/assets/Publications/Reports/PC-Proj-Review-Report-Xaiyaburi-24-3-11.pdf

Thomas Fuller and Poypiti Amatatham, n.d.http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/nyt-laos-presses-ahead-with-mekong-dam-project-7718. [Online]
Available at: Thomas Fuller and Poypiti Amatatham

Tin, Z., 2012. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/dam-04192012143244.html.[Online]
Available at: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/dam-04192012143244.html

Vaidyanathan, G., 2011. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111019/full/478305a.html.[Online]
Available at: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111019/full/478305a.html

Worrell, S., 2012.http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012110659597/National-news/xayaburi-dam-gets-go-ahead.html. [Online]
Available at: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012110659597/National-news/xayaburi-dam-gets-go-ahead.html

Posted in: ASEAN, Laos