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Another river of sorrow
Dams across Mekong make it a potential flash point for hostilities
Issue Date - 10/11/2011
Disputes for land are murky enough, and disputes over water can get murkier. Mekong, south-east Asia’s largest river, which flows through or along the borders of China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, bears the burden of economic conflicts among the countries on its banks. Even the downstream impact of Chinese dams is very debatable since China developed its first hydropower dam ‘without consulting its downstream neighbours’ in 1993. During the last seven months, Mekong has become a focal point of discussion globally over the resolution of the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam, one of the 11 dams planned on the lower Mekong mainstream, the section of the river below China.

Chinese dams have severely affected downstream countries by controlling fluctuations in water volume. Even the Mekong River Commission has accused China for the same. Environmentalists and non-government organisations are worried that it could destroy livelihoods, fish species and farmland & potentially spark a food crisis. International Rivers warns, “Dams would spell disaster for Mekong fisheries and ecology, a risk that millions of people in the region cannot afford to take.” There is a worry that more than 60 million people (who rely on the river & its tributaries for food, water & transportation), may be affected by these dams. Poverty-stricken Cambodia has been affected the most as it heavily depends on the river for food production.

Water sharing conflicts among countries are centuries old. But the Mekong dams’ disagreements are broadening with time. Lao’s Xayaburi dam, which is expecting to greatly affect Vietnam, could break the special bond between the two communist countries. Further development of hydropower dams across Mekong could enhance additional conflicts and even a war over water.


Mrinmoy Dey           

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