Mekong news comes in fits and starts, and the Lao Government is adept at not revealing its intentions until its plans are well advanced. The Xayaburi dam, now under construction, is a notable case in point, with the Government suddenly announcing the official opening of the dam in a manner that blindsided critics.
Now, with attention focused on whether or not the Lao Government is indeed going ahead with the controversial dam planned for southern Laos at Don Sahong (an issue canvassed in many of my Interpreter posts), I have learned courtesy of a short CSIS report that matters are moving forward in relation to a planned dam at Pak Beng, a site approximately 100km upstream from Luang Prabang as the crow flies, or a day's journey in a slow river boat. The topography of the area around Pak Beng makes it ideal for a dam (as my photo attests).
According to the CSIS report, Lao officials met with a Chinese developer, China Datang Overseas Investment Company, on 21 September to discuss the project, which would generate 4700 gigawatt hours of electricity a year. In entering discussions, the Lao representatives have spoken of their concern to ensure the proposed dam is 'sustainable and economically friendly'.
This development underlines the repeated concern of those who fear for the Mekong's future as a vital provider of protein from its stock of fish and as a source of nutrients in the sediment flowing down its long course. The long-standing concern has been that once one dam is built on the river outside China, as has now happened with Xayaburi, other dams would follow, despite the clear risks such a development involve.
So as matters now stand, Xayaburi is being built, construction of the Don Sahong dam seems likely to go ahead, and Pak Beng has now been brought into the mix. With continuing uncertainty about the possibility of a Cambodian dam at Sambor and that government's construction of the Lower Se San 2 dam on a major tributary to add to the picture, the Mekong's future is not looking bright. The feared 'domino effect' poses the real possibility that the Mekong River in the Lower Mekong Basin is set to be altered in an irretrievable and negative fashion.