Nr. dodgy deals
The Pandora's Box of Mekong Dams
United States, Jan 25 2011
When Zeus warned Pandora never to open the box given to her, the temptation proved too strong and Pandora forever unleashed into the world misery, suffering and sorrow. Today, much like this mythical Greek tragedy, the decision-makers of the Mekong sub-region face a similar temptation in the form of a cascade of hydropower dams proposed for the Mekong River's mainstream.
As one of the first of the Mekong mainstream dams that could be unleashed from Pandora's Box, the decision on whether or not to proceed with the Xayaburi Dam in Northern Laos is one of the most pressing challenges facing the Governments of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. This dam, along with warnings of future environmental catastrophe in the form of a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) report, will be two of the agenda items discussed at this week's Mekong River Commission's 17th Council meeting being held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As protocol under the 1995 Mekong Agreement requires the four member countries to notify, consult, and then make a joint decision on any mainstream development project, the governance body of the MRC, the Council, will also take note of the current consultation process underway in three of the four countries.
little expressed commitment to consultation and transparency and a
regional decision expected to be made as early as April 2011, the Save the Mekong coalition has released a new statement on January 25th, urging Council members
to halt the Xayaburi Dam and commit to protecting the Mekong River
before its too late. The letter highlights concerns within the Mekong
Region that an informed decision can not be made under present
circumstances given the failure of the MRC to ensure adequate
consideration of the SEA report's recommendation that decisions
regarding mainstream dams, including the Xayaburi Dam, be deferred for a
period of ten years due to the dams' massive risks and the significant
scientific uncertainties that exist. The research undertaken to date,
including the SEA report, warrants concern given the grave economic,
social and ecological threats, both domestic and transboundary, that the
Mekong dams are expected to cause on the river's rich ecosystem.
These impacts in turn would have enormous risks and costs to the
livelihoods and food security of millions of riverside people in the
In a world facing a growing food and water crisis, working together to protect and share the Mekong River's rich natural resources, rather than undermining them, should be a high priority for the region's decision-makers. If, like Pandora, decision-makers choose not to heed the advice of the SEA report and instead open the dam-building box, grave misfortune is certain to follow. It is yet not too late to prevent the tragedy of these dams from being unleashed. Some boxes are meant to remain unopened.
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