has given approval to the hugely-controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi
Dam on the Mekong River, reports the BBC. The massive dam, which would
provide 95 percent of its energy production to Thailand, has been
criticized for anticipated impacts on the river's fish populations, on
which many locals depend.
In late 2011, the four Mekong River nations—Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and
Cambodia—announced that the dam would not go ahead until more research
was conducted to allay concerns. Friction over the dam has created a
rift between the Laos government and Thailand on the one side and
Vietnam and Cambodia on the other, who fear the dam will hurt fish
populations and river nutrients. The promised research has not come to
"The Xayaburi Dam is the first of a cascade of devastating mainstream
dams that will severely undermine the region’s development efforts. The
food security and jobs of millions of people in the region are now on
the line," Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for the NGO
International Rivers said in a press statement.
The U.S. State Department also raised concern about the approval, which will force the eviction of 2,100 local people.
"The extent and severity of impacts from the Xayaburi dam on an
ecosystem that provides food security and livelihoods for millions are
still unknown," the State Department said in a statement, adding that
they "hope" Laos will work with its neighbor before proceeding.
A recent study in Global Environmental Change found that if the 11
currently planned hydroelectric projects are built on the Mekong River,
fish populations could fall by 16 percent. According to the paper, the
"results suggest that basic food security is potentially at a high risk
But the Laos government, which hopes to see significant economic gain
from the hydroelectric project, says that modifications to the dams
design will allow fish and sediment to move freely through the dam.
But environmentalists also contend that the dam could result in the
extinction of dozens of freshwater fish species, including the Mekong
giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas). Specimens of the Mekong giant
catfish have been caught weighing up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms), but
this monster fish has been overfished to the point of being listed as
Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Modifications to the dam may
not large enough to benefit the Mekong giant catfish.
BBC reports that a ceremony will be held today as construction begins to
move ahead full-steam. The date, November 7th, was selected to
commemorate the anniversary of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution.