by Stephanie Grace Loleng for Ethicaltraveler.org
Four of the world’s 10 largest freshwater fish migrate up the Mekong River to spawn, yet the lives of these big fish – which can grow to be the length of a four-door car and weigh over 1,300 pounds – are at risk should a hydropower plant be built on a stretch of the river in northwestern Laos.
The Laotian government wants to build a 1.26-gigawatt plant on a main artery of the lower Mekong River at Xayaboury near the Thailand border. The government submitted its plans in September, saying the dam would generate foreign exchange income since 90 percent of the electricity would be sold to neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
However, a recent environmental assessment by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) recommends that the building of the dam be halted for 10 years. The MRC is an organization established by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos for the joint management and sustainable development of river resources.
The 200-page report says: “The mainstream projects are likely to result in serious and irreversible environmental damage, losses in long-term health and productivity of natural systems and losses in biological diversity and ecological integrity.”
Even before the MRC assessment, environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) opposed the plan for the dam because of the threat to wildlife and the migration patterns of endangered freshwater species, including the Mekong giant catfish and the enormous Mekong stingray. “It is already very clear this dam would amplify and accelerate the negative impacts of Chinese dams to the Mekong delta. What are the other impacts?” said Marc Goichot of the WWF in an article at co.uk.
Alongside the threat to wildlife, local villagers living along the river would be displaced from their homes once construction on the proposed dam starts. As many as 2,130 people from 10 villages would have to move to another location if dam construction starts. Most of these villagers earn their living from fish harvesting and agriculture.
In an article for The Nation, one villager states that a Thai construction company inspecting the site told local residents that their houses would be rebuilt at another location and that the company would build a road, as well as provide water and electricity. Villagers who own teak farms were told that they would be compensated 150,000 Lao kip (1.8 US dollars) per piece of teak. Another villager said the company staff told them that they would build a special channel for boat traffic.
The dam in question is one of a dozen mainstream dams planned along the lower Mekong, 10 of them in Laos. According to a news report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the MRC’s strategic environmental assessment (SEA) acknowledges that Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, could earn billions of dollars annually if these dams are built. However, the SEA also predicts that fisheries could lose $476 million a year and “in the short to medium term, poverty would be made worse by any of the mainstream projects, especially among the poor in rural and urban areas.” Furthermore, the report predicts that environmental damage would be severe.
During the 10-year deferment period, the Mekong River Commission recommends that the government work with multilateral development banks, developers, and the MRC itself to identify innovative ways of using the power of the Mekong River in ways that do not involve building dam after dam across the breadth of the river.
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02 November 2010
A jury of professional engineers from business, government and academia have honoured Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB) for its work on the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project (NT2) in Laos, naming the Canadian engineering firm as a recipient of the 2010 Canadian Consulting Engineering Award of Excellence.
The NT2 project is a long-term collaborative effort between Laos and Thailand to develop up to 3000MW of hydropower energy in Laos for export to Thailand. KCB participated in the NT2 project as the designer for the two main civil works packages comprising the hydro facilities. The NT2 project is one of the most important infrastructure developments in the country and a key driver supporting growth and advancement of Laos and its people.
The Nam Theun River, a major tributary of the Mekong River, is situated on the Nakai plateau between the Mekong River and the Annamite Mountains delineating the eastern border of Laos with Vietnam. The project required the water to be diverted from the Nam Theun River to a powerhouse located at the base of the Nakai escarpment and from there to Mekong.
This river experiences a large annual flood event which proved a challenge for the Design-Build Constructor. Rather than incurring significant costs to divert the flood waters, KCB recommended an innovative flood handling plan using a small diversion tunnel and roller compacted concrete construction (RCC). The RCC construction was done during the dry season windows over three years with the site area being flooded during the wet seasons.
The project’s underground works are large in scale and complex in design. This is especially true for the pressure shaft and tunnels that divert the water. To manage the flow, KCB designed one of the largest pressure-diameter bifurcations (tunnels) in the world. In order to handle the load and rock stresses, KCB’s design required the use of high strength steels of thicknesses that would not normally be seen on hydroelectric projects. This set a precedent for the use of steel types and thicknesses in the hydro industry.
The benefits of the project are many: economically, the people of the area will now have access to inexpensive electricity and have a resource for export; socially, the surrounding areas benefitted from the schools, community buildings, roads, houses and jobs that were developed in the project area; and a Poverty Reduction Fund is being implemented by Laos and the World bank with direct funding from the NT2 energy revenues. A substantial portion of the revenues will flow back to Laos and the NT2 will contribute annual revenues equal to 7 to 9% of Lao national budget or a total of US$2B over the 25 year concession period.
Laos, heavily contaminated by the weapons, hosts the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty came into effect 1 Aug 2010. Opening in mid-air and scattering bomblets over a wide area, cluster bombs cause indiscriminate death and destruction. According to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, 104 countries have signed the treaty and 30 have ratified it. The signatories don’t include the United States, Russia, China and Israel.
The treaty, signed in Dublin on 30 May 2008, bans the use, production and transfer of cluster munitions, which were first developed during World War II. It sets deadlines for stockpile destruction and clearance of contaminated land. It also obliges states to support survivors and affected communities.
A recent article in London’s Times newspaper points out that cluster munitions continue to kill in Laos, where they were dropped 37 years ago by the United States. The article says cluster bombs have killed 12,000 people in that country alone. An Israeli Defence Force commander reported in Haaretz after Israel’s 2006 military incursion into Lebanon that the IDF covered entire towns in cluster bombs. Hezbollah guerrillas fired more than 100 cluster munitions rockets into northern Israel. Both Russia and Georgia used them during their Aug 2008 conflict.
Each bomb contains bomblets designed to cover a large area and deter an advancing army. Countries that make and use them say they are a legitimate anti-personnel weapon. Campaigners against cluster munitions argue they are outmoded and immoral because of the dangers posed to civilians from bombs that do not explode and litter the ground like landmines. According to NGO Handicap International, civilians make up 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims, and almost one-third of them are children.
- Cluster Munitions Coalition
- UN-backed pact against cluster munitions to take effect from August (UN 16 Feb 2010)
- Women at the deadly end of the cluster-bomb debate (Times 23 Feb 2010)
- IDF Commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon (Haaretz 12 Sep 2006)
- Cluster munitions treaty to enter force this year (Reuters 17 Feb 2010) http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N16248603.htm
- Cluster munition ban gains momentum, monitor says (correction) Monsters and Critics.com
- Cluster bomb ban gaining ground Aljazeera.net
- Cluster bomb ban hailed but threat still urgent Channel News Asia