Mekong dams concern UN researchers

Chinese dam-building on the upper half of the Mekong poses the greatest threat to the future of the river, one of the world’s major waterways and a key regional water source, according to a United Nations report cited by the Associated Press. Laos, too, has begun dam construction on the river and its tributaries, and Cambodia and Vietnam have building plans.

“China’s extremely ambitious plan to build a massive cascade of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong River, as it tumbles through the high gorges of Yunnan Province, may pose the single greatest threat to the river,” the report said. The development’s impacts, it added, include “changes in river flow volume and timing, water quality deterioration and loss of biodiversity”.

However, said Mukand S Babel, one of the report’s authors: “The Mekong is in good condition at this time and can take more pressure such as irrigation development or industrial development.” The river’s pollution levels were not at “alarming levels”, and water shortages and conflicts over water have not emerged as yet.

Several river basins in the Mekong are under threat due to increasing development and demand for water, according to the report. They include the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, Nam Khan in Laos and Sekong-Sesan-Srepok in Vietnam. 

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said the government pays equal attention to the development of the Mekong (known in China as the Lancang) and to its protection. “I would like to point out that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the exploration and the protection of cross-border rivers and conducts the policy of equal attention to development and protection,” Ma said.

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