FR EN ES Search
  1. Home
  2. Past Events
  3. Laos a project for a new dam on the Mekong criticized


All the news

Laos: a project for a new dam on the Mekong criticized

Laos intends to build a new dam on the Mekong that will be operated by China, despite the criticisms of ecologists and the local population, who denounce its harmful impact on the environment and the lack of consultation.


A new project for a huge development program

In recent years, the Laotian government has implemented a major hydroelectricity policy in the Mekong basin with the intention of making it the region’s electricity battery, by exporting the electricity produced to Vietnam and Thailand in particular. This program foresees a total of about 22,000 MW of additional hydroelectric power installed from now to 2030. Finally, the tragic accident that occurred in 2018 did not stall the project.

This new project comprises the Sanakham dam, 150 kilometers north of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Its construction is scheduled to begin this year and the installation will produce 684 megawatts of electricity in 2028, the date planned for its commissioning. With an estimated cost of €1.92 billion, it will be operated by the giant Chinese public company China Datang Corporation. Sanakham is the sixth of a series of nine dams planned on the Laotian part of the Mekong, of which two have already been commissioned over the last few months. The main criticisms come from environmental organizations which are concerned about the slump in fish stocks and the fall in water height, caused, according to them, by the dams upstream that impede the river’s natural discharge. Almost 5,000 km long, the Mekong crosses six countries* and is a vital natural boon for 60 million Asians who earn their livings from agriculture and fishing. After the Amazon, it is the home of the richest aquatic biodiversity in the world, with 1,300 species of fish.

Hydrologic Processes in the Mekong River Basin / Source : PLOS ONE

A study that polarizes oppositions

In mid-April, a study financed by Eyes on Earth, an American organization, for the Partnership for sustainable infrastructures and the Lower Mekong Initiative, sparked a controversy. It accused China of having retained large quantities of the Mekong’s water in 2019, thus aggravating the severe drought affecting the countries of Southeast Asia. China built its first dam on the Upper Mekong in the 1990s and currently manages 11 dams. They contribute to the decrease in the river’s discharges downstream – Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. According to the authors of the report, the Lower Mekong has undergone “some of the lowest levels ever seen during most of the year”. China has rejected the scientific report, asserting that “the discharge leaving the Lancang (the Mekong in the Chinese section) has a very limited impact on the total volume of the Mekong, since the runoff in the lower reaches essentially depends on precipitations, and the inflows from the ramifications of the river network”. It assures that it does its best to guarantee a reasonable discharge of water.

For its part, the MRC, the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental organization that brings together Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, has declared that “more scientific proof is required to conclude that the drought of 2019 was mostly caused by the storage of water by the dams of the Upper Mekong”. Nonetheless, the Commission also once again requested that more information should be shared between the stakeholder countries, including China.

Going beyond this study, the more global impact on the environment and food security of the region’s populations that the thousand dams on the Mekong and its tributaries have, give rise for concern. This has led to the decision taken by the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy to no longer build new hydropower dams along the Mekong for the next ten years, a choice that marks a break with development plans. The government had announced a plan to build two new dams, but the decision was taken to put a hold on these projects in the light of the results of the environmental impact study.

*China, where its source lies, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, before flowing into the South China Sea.

Mettez à jour votre navigateur pour consulter ce site