Messing Up the Mekong: Laos Plans a Second Huge Dam

Farming, fishing and wildlife in four countries threatened by brutal infrastructural project

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Jonathan Saruk / Getty Images

Boys bathe and fish along the Mekong in the evening May 26, 2010 in Nakham Noi, Laos.

The World Widlife Fund (WWF) has called for an emergency meeting with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) after Laos announced that it will go ahead with its second hydroelectric project along the river without first consulting the intergovernmental body.

According to a 1995 agreement, mainstream dam projects can only proceed if a consensus is reached between MRC’s four member countries, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Laos has provided MRC with a feasibility study for the new Don Sahong dam, which includes an assessment of its social and environmental impact,  but the document has not yet been made public. After Laos announced its first dam in 2012, the consultancy firm in charge of the impact study received harsh criticism for its assessment.

Harnessed right, hydropower could bring development to an impoverished Southeast Asian region, but the risks are sizeable. Dams threaten to restrict the flow of nutritious sediment to Vietnam’s rice fields, and the pathway of migrating fish, which feed millions in the Lower Mekong. Environmental groups like WWF have also warned for the possible impact on Mekong’s unique biodiversity, second in scope only to the Amazon’s. The Irrawaddy dolphin and Mekong catfish are two species at risk.

The Laos government has stated that it expects to start construction of the Don Sahong in November 2013, with commercial operation set to begin in May 2018.

MORE: Can Damming the Mekong Power a Better Life to Laos?