Sydney scientist warns of Laos dam fallout

Mekong River down to a trickle?

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February 28, 2014 by

Filed under ASEAN AFFAIRS, News

BUENG KAN, 28 February 2014: Mekong River is reducing so fast this year, you could almost walk across the 1 km wide river at some parts in central Laos and Northeast Thailand.

For ferry owners that is an alarming prospect for their already declining business. In Bueng Kan district the drought has exposed a large sandbank in the middle of the river according to a National News Bureau of Thailand report. Cargo vessels need to make a long detour to avoid running aground.

Owners of local boat services, shuttling between Hyau Kard temporary border point in Bueng Kan and Ban Tuay in Laos, are worried because their daily operating costs are rising, while fares are have not been adjusted.

The transport service is popular among local residents and small businesses on both banks of the river. Cargo and passenger boats need to spend twice as much time plying between the two towns.

Similar scenes are described up and down the river. What was a fast flowing river, almost flooding its banks three months earlier, is now reduced to a narrow channel of shallow water on some stretches that mark the border with central Laos and Thailand.

Sydney scientist warns of Laos dam fallout

A Sydney University professor says the Mekong River would be affected if a 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam was to go ahead.

Source AAP | 28 Feb 2014 – 3:28pm | UPDATED YESTERDAY 11:02 AM

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An Australian scientist has warned that a planned hydro-electric dam on the Mekong River in Laos could damage fish stocks vital to the hundreds of thousands of poor in neighbouring Cambodia.

Philip Hirsch, a professor at Sydney University’s School of Geosciences and the Mekong Research Centre, says the Mekong River, in its role as the “world’s most productive inland fishery” would be affected if the 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam was to go ahead.

“The overall hydrological impacts of Don Sahong will be quite small, but it has a major, major impact in Cambodia on the source of that country’s animal protein which the poor depend on for the bulk of their dietary requirements,” Hirsch told AAP.

The proposed Don Sahong Dam, is located in Laos’ Champasak Province and situated on the five-kilometre long Hou Sahong, one of the ‘braided channels’ of the Mekong River about two kilometres upstream of the Lao-Cambodia border.

The Don Sahong dam is one of eleven dams planned for the lower Mekong River. Laos has already pressed on with construction of the US$3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos despite criticism from environmentalists and donor countries, including the US and Australia.

A study by the Mekong River Commission – an intergovernmental body bringing together Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, has warned that damming the river could reduce fishery by 300,000 tonnes a year, having a major impact on a million people, especially in Cambodia.

Hirsch says the go ahead the Xayaburi Dam has raised fears of an “unstoppable momentum” it would be “more difficult not to be build a second, third until you’ve got all eleven” dams.

“When you have all eleven then the hydrological as well as the ecological impacts are significant in Cambodia and all the way down to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam,” he said.

A meeting by the MRC in January delayed a final decision on the dam, calling on ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to further appraise the project. Hirsch said the delay marked a “silver lining” in the Mekong co-operation framework.

He said Cambodia and Vietnam have realised the potential impacts from the dam and have put in objections.

The issue will now be referred to the ministerial or political level, “and a lot depends on what happens at the council meeting”, so far unscheduled.

“It’s still a ways to go,” Hirsch said.


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