Dispatch From Laos Posted by Peter Van Wallendael, 10 May 2011
Laos has begun preliminary construction on a dam across the Mekong River that will have severe consequences for the biological diversity of the Mekong river ecosystem. The Indo-Burma bioregion, of which the Mekong is a centerpiece, has a tremendous amount of biological diversity scattered across its mountains, valleys and coasts. The isolated watersheds harbor an especially high level of native species.
The project, called Xayaburi, will generate electricity that will be sold to Thailand. This dam is significant in that it will disrupt both the migration route of channel species, and block water and silt flows that are vital for downstream habitats. Further, Laos is looking at this as a precedent, with five more mainstream dams on the drawing board.
To the Mekong Catfish, critically endangered, this just may be the last stroke. This giant of the Mekong benthic community, the world’s largest freshwater fish, grows up to 660 pounds. It ranged historically up and down the rivers length, from the delta in Vietnam to the headwaters in China. Currently, it is restricted to small populations in the middle reaches, just the area where the dam is proposed.
Senior United States Senator Jim Webb, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, issued a statement on 14 April, 2011, in support of blocking the dam’s construction. He maintains that contrary to an accord signed by all of the nations of the Mekong watershed, Laos is moving forward unilaterally. Additionally, reports stating the grave impact of the dam on both natural habitat and human communities have been swept aside by the Laotian government.
Readers are strongly encouraged to contact their government representatives and ask them to apply pressure to Laos to shelve construction of this dam, and seek alternatives to provide economic stimulus to the region.