ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Xayaburi dam could increase earthquakesBy Reinhard Hohler
Today’s News Update on the AseanAffairs web site is filled with environmental disasters: a food shortage in Indonesia, haze in Singapore and floods threatening Bangkok. But none can be more sinister than the Vietnamese report that the Xayaburi dam to be built on the Mekong in Laos could increase the probability of regional earthquakes.
Readers of Asean Analysis should be aware that the construction of the Xayaburi dam has been a frequent subject of earlier columns. The reason is that the dam is part of a big push by the Laos government to become the “battery of Asia” by exploiting its hydropower resources.
The dam is opposed by Laos’ downstream neighbors, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, over the possible effects that the dam could have on the Mekong’s flow and how that would impact the river’s fishery. The fishery is a prime source of protein for many thousands of riverside dwellers in four countries.
The apprehension about the dam is compounded by the review of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was done and judged not to be up to international standards.
Earlier this year, Laos agreed to halt construction on the dam pending an additional EIA but reports filter in that this is just a bluff. The bluff now appears abandoned as Viraphonh Viravong, director general of the Department of Electricity at Laos’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, announced during an interview in Hanoi that construction on the dam will begin before year’s end.
The 1260-megawatt, 32-meter high project sits about 100 kilometres south of the Lai Chau-Dien Bien fault line. This year several earthquakes have been reported in the northern Myanmar-Thailand-Laos region with one of them felt as far away as Bangkok.
To raise the standard of living in Laos is the goal behind the push for this dam as well as 11 other dams planned for the lower Mekong. However, one major earthquake could have a devastating impact on the Greater Mekong Subregion but short of warfare, nothing seems to be able to delay Laos dam building rush.
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