Stimson’s Southeast Asia program was delighted to bring together a diverse group of experts to discuss its recent report, Mekong Turning Point: Shared River for a Shared Future and broader issues concerning the construction of hydropower dams on the Mekong River and major tributaries. The report led and co-authored by program director Dr. Richard Cronin takes a cautiously optimistic view of the agreement by Laos to suspend for an unspecified period the construction of the Xayaburi dam, the first of as many as 12 dams planned or under consideration on the Lower Mekong River. Laos’ downstream neighbors, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam pressed for a suspension of construction against the background of a campaign by environmental NGOs and local civil society and the strong recommendations of an expert study group for a ten year moratorium on all mainstream dams pending additional research on their potentially catastrophic environmental and socioeconomic impact. While the suspension of the Xayaburi dam is encouraging, it is in some ways a special case. The sharply inequitable distribution of upstream-downstream costs and benefits and the existence of a treaty-based protocol for prior consultation and agreement on mainstream dams played a major role. Meanwhile the river system is still threatened by a massive cascade of dams already completed or under construction in China’s Yunnan Province and the ongoing construction of large dams on major tributaries.
Patricia Zurita, Executive Director, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)
Blake Ratner, Program Leader, Governance, WorldFish Center
Christian Castro, Director, Office of Multilateral Affairs, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of State