Wildlife and people at threat because of Mekong river dam
The Laotian government is killing the life in Mekong river by building the Don Sahong dam. This unilateral decision has been strongly criticized by all the downstream countries, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam that would be severely impacted by the project. They have been joined by local populations and environmental groups. However the construction started in December 2015 and this ecological and social disaster is about to hit the area.
A dam project decided unilaterally by Laos[edit | edit source]
The project to build this disruptive dam appeared in 2006 when the Government of Laos asked Mega First Corporation Berhad, a construction company from Malaysia, to do a preliminary study on a dam in the Champasak province, at the border between Laos and Cambodia. Why they chose Mega First no one knows, because the Malaysian company had never taken part in a hydropower project before and had no expertise in that field whatsoever. Even worse, Laos didn't even take the trouble to discuss this project with the countries located downstream. In 2013, the Laotian government bluntly informed them that it would start the construction of the dam. This contrasts sharply with the usual procedures for project that have to do with the Mekong River. These projects are supposed to be elaborated through concertation and only begin when a consensus has been reached between the concerned countries. The Laotian government chose to ignore these procedures and the point of view of its neighbors. This is globalisation at its worst. No one says that Laos shouldn't be allowed to build the tools to its development. But here we see that Laos only feels that it can develop through competition with its neighbors, instead of cooperation. There is something deeply twisted in the way our world is organized right now and the Don Sahong dam is a sad example that developing countries are fighting each other in a scramble for natural resources instead of working together. European States and the US are responsible for this world (dis)order, because they have consistently vied for resources and power and have set a disastrous example that is now bringing conflict, environmental disruption and poor living conditions in the Mekong.
A project that will kill the Mekong River wildlife[edit | edit source]
Indeed the dam that is being built is going to have a calamitous impact on the Mekong River, one of the richest ecosystems in the world, the second river in the world with the highest number of fish species (after the Amazon) and where new kinds of fish are discovered by scientists every year. The biggest risk concerns a dolphin population that is already on the brink of extinction, the Irrawaddy dolphins. There are less than a hundred dolphins left today and the dam will most certainly be the fatal blow to this population because the site of the dam is located only miles away from the core habitat of the dolphins. This would already represent a big enough disruption to jeopardize their survival but it gets worse. The construction of the dam entails blasting 2.5 million cubic meters of rock with explosives. This will prove fatal to a great number of dolphins because they are very sensitive to water vibrations and they could be killed outright by the shockwaves or be so disoriented that they would become unable to find their way and feed themselves. But the dolphins aren't the only ones to be threatened by the dam. It will cut off critical migratory routes for some fish species and thus cause a major disruption that would endanger the survival of many fish species. The dam designers, Mega First, claim that the fish can adapt if they swim through other channels of the river provided they be clear of fish traps. This is where it's clear that these Mega First engineers are amateurs that know nothing about building dams and the consequences of such endeavours. Many reports have proven that the success of these alternative migratory routes was “faith based” and that nothing indicated that the fish would follow Mega First's plan. So we can see that the dam will effectively kill the biodiversity in one of the world's most thriving rivers, which will be a loss for the whole planet. Furthermore, the disruptions caused by Don Sahong dam will be felt as far as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. That area is already suffering from the rising sea levels and erosion. And the dam will make matters even worse. It will trap precious sediment and worsen the erosion. It will also decrease the water flow in Mekong river and that will cause the rising seas to wash over the Mekong delta, thus upsetting local ecosystems. And the first ones to suffer will be the people.
The livelihoods of tens of millions at risk[edit | edit source]
The human impacts are countless. The first one is the threat on the Mekong river fishery, that feeds around 60 million people in the Mekong Basin. The river is a source of income but also food security for all these people. It represents about 25 % of the freshwater fishery worldwide and it's the major source of protein for many people of these developing countries. The rupture in the migratory routes of the fish could lead to a significant decrease in the fish population and inflict a deadly blow to the livelihood of many Cambodians and Vietnamese. The Mekong area agriculture will also suffer from the consequences of the Don Sahong dam. The reduced water flow will mean less irrigation during the dry season, it will also make the soil poorer, by depriving it of the alluvium the Mekong usually carries and that will be blocked by the dam. This will impact the productivity of the rice crops and will lead to a higher use of fertilizers that pollute the soil and water of the Mekong area. Finally, tourism will also be destroyed and this will put many people out of their jobs. For instance, the Khone Falls in Southern Laos will be very less attractive to tourists when the dam will have neutralized the currents that make them so spectacular today. Mr Chhith Sam Ath, from WWF in Cambodia can only conclude that “Don Sahong dam is a dangerous experiment and Mega First is gambling with the livelihoods of millions.” This has driven more than a quarter million people to oppose this dam by a global petition launched by WWF.
The Don Sahong dam is terrible news for all people of the Mekong River area. It will destroy the river's ecosystem and threaten the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. It symbolizes everything that is wrong with today's globalisation, that drives developing countries to go for short-term solutions, even though they will have disastrous effects on their own people and on their neighbors. It's high time we turned our back on this dog eat dog frame of mind and started working out new ways to give everyone access to development while preserving the environment.