The challenge of a green economy
With a growing population and increased urbanization, Asian countries are building the water, energy, waste management, and transport infrastructure that will support their needs.
At the same time, “green economy” calls for economic development based on sustainable resource use and management.
But many countries in the Greater Mekong are facing challenges in developing sustainable infrastructure due to institutional, technological, and financial insufficiency. These constraints are particularly acute when it comes to hydropower development.
An increase in power demand along with inflated forecasts of future demand, volatile prices in international energy markets, and concerns over carbon emissions have intensified interest in hydropower development – one of the Greater Mekong’s major renewable energy sources.
In addition to fueling fast growing economies, hydropower development is promoted by some as an avenue for poverty alleviation or, at a minimum, a way to provide electricity access to the millions of households in the region that are still without electricity.
The long-term cost of dams
Whereas sustainable hydropower could potentially boost economies and help provide energy security, concerns have intensified over the potential cumulative impacts of the proposed dams on the environment, fisheries, and people’s livelihoods.
Agreements have been signed with developers for 12 hydropower projects on the lower sections of the Mekong River. But without proper planning, dam development can seriously harm the environment, and the people dependent on the mighty Mekong.
Damming the Mekong will:
- impact the region’s natural monsoonal flood/drought cycles
- block sediment and nutrient transfer, and seriously impact the fish and aquatic life of the river and wetlands
- require tens of thousands of people to relocate because their homes and land will be flooded
- impact millions more through changes to habitat, farmlands and wetlands
Impacts of dams on fisheries and livelihoods
Each year, a large and diverse fish migration to spawning grounds takes place along the Lower Mekong River.
Up to 70% of commercial fish are long distance migratory species. If this fish migration is blocked by large infrastructure such as a hydropower development, fish will not be able to reach spawning grounds.
The risk is that fish populations will fall and some species may vanish. The region’s fisheries industry, integral to the livelihoods of 60 million people, may even collapse.