In Laos, the push for hydropower near the ancient capital of Luang Prabang shows that plans to dam the Mekong River basin are already going awry. But rather than learning from its missteps, the government—with the help of Thai and Vietnamese developers—is going ahead with a dam that could endanger a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Two years after a dam in southern Laos collapsed, displacing thousands, the country’s hydropower gold rush continues. As the companies and governments involved refuse to take responsibility for what happened, Laos still pins its hopes on hydropower without addressing the risks.
New research shows that in 2019, Chinese dams on the Mekong River trapped nearly all of the river’s flow, causing the record-breaking drought that still plagues the region. The new findings confirm what natural resource advocates have said for years: that local experts and communities must have control over their water.
As droughts and flooding in the Mekong River basin become harsher and more frequent due to the effects of climate change, coal and hydropower may no longer be viable development paths for the region.
Newly constructed dams threaten the delicate ecosystem of the Lower Mekong Basin. The solutions are available but as is so often the case, politics stands in the way.