The Wunonglong dam will inundate Yanmen, a nearby village whose residents will be resettled on Cizhong’s rice paddies. And this means that, in a way, Cizhong, too, will vanish. Brian Eyler, deputy director of the South-East Asia programme at the Stimson Centre, an American think-tank, says Yanmen sits above Cizhong in China’s administrative league tables, meaning that after resettlement Cizhong will be renamed Yanmen, losing its name along with much of its charm.
Environmentalists think both that such synergies make the harm done by dams greater than governments claim, and that the benefits are overestimated. Touting hydropower as “green” because it can be used in the place of fossil-fuel derived electricity overlooks external costs such as compensation and relocation, lost agricultural productivity and biodiversity and lowered water quality. And although benefits may be large (especially for electricity exporters), they are hardly overwhelming, especially in the context of broader development. Power demand in the region is expected to more than double between now and 2025—having already doubled from 2005. According to Richard Cronin, a Mekong specialist at the Stimson Centre, an American think-tank, the nine Lao and two Cambodian dams currently discussed would provide just 6-8% of the total electricity needs of the lower Mekong basin by 2030, with most of the power going to Thailand. “For that,” Mr Cronin asks, “you’re going to kill the river?”
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