Mekong Dams Cause a Stir

Mekong Dams Cause a Stir

The Mekong River. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tashandsmoked/1357553641/">tashandsmoked(flickr)</a>
The Mekong River. Photo: tashandsmoked(flickr)

Before it reaches the sea, the Mekong River travels more than 2,500 miles through Tibet, China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is estimated that more than 60 million people depend on the river in some way. But the dams are changing the river and impacting the people who depend on it.

For better or worse, four dams are already in place and 11 are on their way, most of which will be in China.

China is working to reduce their dependence on coal, and get more power from renewable sources like hydroelectricity, according to IRIN, the UN news agency, which reports that "governments downstream claim the hydroelectric dams will cut electricity costs."

The dams currently generate over 3,000 megawatts of electricity, says Radio Free Asia. A Portland General Electric representative told me that's enough electricity to power a city about the size of Portland, Oregon — with a population of 575,000 people — for an entire year.

Besides energy, the dams also help to regulate the rivers flow. As IRIN reports, supporters are saying this is a pretty impressive perk, since the region's unpredictable rains often times cause a flood or drought.

But others, including locals, don't think so highly of the dams.

According to the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, the river's fishing industry alone is worth up to $3 billion annually, and the existing dams are already decreasing that profit. Mekong fisherman Ouy Chai tells Al Jazeera that "before you could catch 10-20 fish in one day and now you can fish all week and not catch anything." His wife says, "I'm scared. What will be left for our children and grandchildren to eat?"

In the same vein, many environmentalists are saying that the dams are harsh on the environment, causing erosion and harming biodiversity. Nguyen Huu Chien, head of the environment and natural resource management program at Can Tho University, tells Radio Free Asia that "it is like a blood vessel in the human body. When we build dams, it is like a blockage in the veins: it will definitely affect other areas."

Despite the protesting and petitioning efforts of those against the dams, IRIN reports that two new ones are currently underway.

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