‘Hungry river’ phenomenon to blame for severe erosion of Mekong River banks in Laos

Radio Free Asia –

Upstream dams and sand mining have caused significant erosion along the Mekong River in western Laos, according to experts, devastating riparian communities in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation with high waters and powerful currents.

But residents of those communities say they believe that other issues are to blame.

Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia Program and the Energy, Water, and Sustainability Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., said upstream activities had created a “hungry river” phenomenon responsible for the severe erosion.

“There is a natural phenomenon called a ‘hungry river’ where a river which has been robbed of its sediments looks for new sediment to fill its course,” he said. “Sediment is taken out of a river system by upstream dams and sand mining, so when the river goes ‘hungry’ it pulls new sediment into it from river banks through erosion processes.”

“Upstream dams in China have removed more than half of the sediment from the Mekong mainstream and now that Laos has built about 100 dams, the effects are being felt even more severely,” he said.

If dams must be built, their designs should include sediment flushing mechanisms to allow sediment to pass through the structure, Eyler said.

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