New Mekong dam ignores threats to UNESCO World Heritage city, livelihoods and ecosystems

ASEAN Today –

As US-China tensions turn towards the Mekong River and its dams, the area near Laos’ latest hydropower project on the river is already seeing major controversy around existing dam projects.

The Lao government is preparing to start construction on the Luang Prabang Dam, a 1,460-megawatt (MW) project that will be the largest on Laos’ portion of the river. Located near the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, the dam—like others along the Mekong—threatens the river’s ecosystems.

The impacts of Mekong dams on fisheries and agriculture also jeopardize the food supply of over 60 million people who rely on the river. The Mekong basin is the most productive source of freshwater fish in the world and it represents 15-25% of the global annual fish catch, worth billions of dollars to the countries along the Lower Mekong.

Mekong dams are now also coming into play in US-China dynamics. A study earlier this year showed that China’s 11 dams on the upper portion of the Mekong withheld nearly all of the river’s flow in 2019, while the Lower Mekong countries saw a record-breaking drought.

On the local level, other hydropower projects in the same area as the Luang Prabang Dam have already been mired by reports of forced displacement and broken promises.

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