Countries in the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB) should support a freeze on planned dam projects and initiate a regional forum to discuss the environmental, livelihood, water and food security implications of such developments, say R. Edward Grumbine and Jianchu Xu.
A new integrated, transboundary approach to managing the river basin could serve as a model for future river projects, they say.
In September, Laos petitioned the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to approve 11 dams — the first to be proposed for the lower Mekong. The proposals have initiated an unprecedented analysis of impacts for both ecosystems and people living in the region, say Grumbine and Xu.
The MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment predicts that the dams will supply 8 per cent of the region's power needs by 2025, providing Cambodia and Laos with an annual income that equals 18 per cent and 4 per cent of 2009 GDP (gross domestic product). But environmental costs directly related to loss of livelihoods, which include reduced fisheries and loss of floodplain agriculture, are estimated at US$500 million a year.
The design of the dams is unsuitable for the migration of local fish species, and this would affect more than two million people who depend on local fisheries. Given these findings, the SEA has recommended halting all dam building in the region for ten years.
The authors suggest that a regional forum should begin to discuss issues that affect different countries affected by the proposed developments — including data sharing and early-warning flood systems; transparency, public participation and financial benefits for local people; and the social responsibilities of private investors.