New Publication: Mekong Turning Point

in Program

By Richard Cronin – The political economy of the Mekong River Basin shifted in 2011
from policies that exploited this transboundary resource shared by China
five Southeast Asian countries, to potentially more cooperative and
approaches. Whether the effects last remains to be seen, but for once
“business as usual” in the construction of environmentally
destructive hydropower dams encountered an unforeseen obstacle.

In November 2011, the government of Laos yielded to opposition
from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and suspended the construction of a
32-meter high dam across the Mekong mainstream in its northern Xayaburi
Province for an unspecified period. The first of up to 12 dams planned
for the
Lao, Lao-Thai, and Cambodian stretches of the river, the future of the
dam has huge environmental and socioeconomic consequences for all.
Planned dams
would block the spawning migration of hundreds of fish species and trap
silt-borne nutrients, jeopardizing the food security, health, and
of 60-million people, as well as hard-won regional peace and stability.

The construction of environmentally and socioeconomically
destructive dams continues uninterrupted on the upper half of the Mekong
in China’s Yunnan Province, and on major tributaries in Laos, Vietnam,
Cambodia. But as of early 2012 three critical factors have stalled the
proposed mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong:

  • The Transboundary
    – Growing awareness of transboundary impacts is a
    Governments have begun to consider the regional political consequences
    of the
    mainstream projects as more than domestic concerns.
  • Institutions
    – The establishment of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in
    and the commitment of the four member governments to a specific protocol
    establishing and considering-if not necessarily reconciling-the
    national and societal costs and benefits of mainstream dams.
  • The Empowerment
    of Civil Society –
    Thai civil society organizations injected their
    opposition to the Xayaburi dam into the national election campaign; the
    Vietnamese government allowed NGOs to hold anti-dam public meetings and
    popular opposition as justification for its refusal to accept the

Whether the delay of the Xayaburi project will be a permanent
turning point towards cooperative and sustainable water development
critically on follow-up action by the MRC, its member countries, and the
international donor community to fund the studies necessary to support
comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of proposed dams and
diversions. In the best case, a new norm, a “Mekong Standard” for
project planning, engineering, and environmental and socioeconomic
assessments will emerge and be accepted as a basis for regional decision

Click here to read the entire report, “Mekong Turning Point.”

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