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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        27  April 2011

Lao dam threatens Mekong Delta

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Local experts have voiced their concerns over the grave consequences of building the Xayaburi Dam in Laos, saying it would seriously jeopardize the southern Mekong Delta, causing a decline in the volume of sediment and irreversible environmental impacts.

"The impacts of building a dam on the lower Mekong mainstream would be massive," according to a report conducted by international specialists on the adverse impacts such projects would have on the local environment and ecology.

The report said the dam would reduce the annual flow of sediment through Vietnam's Mekong delta from 26 million tonnes down to 7 million tonnes, and similarly, the proportion of nutrition would plunge from over 4,000 tonnes to 1,000 tonnes, resulting in a loss of 450,000 tonnes of migrating fish per year.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Thai Lai said without sediment, the delta would be lost, and the rate of salt water intrusion would increase due to climate change. "We are extremely worried about the development of dams on the lower Mekong River's mainstream, which is home to over 20 million people," said Lai.

Being a low-lying coastal region, the Mekong Delta is extremely susceptible to climate change. A climate change scenario indicated that up to two-thirds of the delta area would be submerged in water if sea levels rose by just one metre.

The area produces around 50 percent of Vietnam's rice, more than 70 percent of seafood, and 70 percent of fruit.

Low water levels in the river last year led to salt water intrusion that destroyed about 8 percent of rice in An Giang Province's Ba The District.

Director of Can Tho City's Natural Resources and Environment Monitoring and Survey Centre Ky Quang Vinh blamed the low levels on dams built on the upper reaches of Mekong River. Vinh said flood water running down to the delta would significantly drop if the Xayaburi Dam was built, and would further aggravate salt water intrusion.

Deputy head of the Viet Nam Union of Science and Technology Associations Ho Uy Liem said the Xayaburi project would destroy the Mekong Delta and the long-term consequences would be unimaginable.

"If approved, the Xayaburi power plant would set a dangerous precedent for future power projects on the Mekong, with 11 already in the planning stages," said deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Rivers Network Dao Trong Tu.

He said Mekong River would cease to be a common river of its surrounding countries if its water was blocked at the riverhead.

The World Wide Fund for Nature in Vietnam also released an announcement saying Xayaburi would separate nine ecosystems out of 13 in the region if it was built.

The fund called for a 10-year deferral of all Mekong mainstream dams so that further studies could be carried out to establish the environmental impacts of such dams, as well as their benefits.

Scientists from the Viet Nam Rivers Network recommended a series of proposals to stop the Xayaburi project from going ahead. They included asking the Government to call upon international organisations to help Laos implement socioeconomic development programmes and develop alternative renewable energy solutions.

Located in a mountainous valley in northern Laos, the Xayaburi hydropower plant would be the first of 12 dams to be built on the mainstream of the lower Mekong River, which provides enormous fisheries and sediment resources to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

The plant is expected to generate 1,260 megawatts of electricity, 95 percent of which will be exported to Thailand.

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