The environment and lives of dozens of millions of people living in the Lower Mekong Basin are being threatened as the Mekong River is expected to see yet another hydropower dam construction, experts said at an international conference on Friday.
Experts all express concerns over the Laos-proposed Pak Beng dam, the latest to be built on the Mekong River, as they convened for a consultation process held by the Vietnam Mekong River Commission in the southern Vietnamese city of Can Tho.
The Lao government has submitted a set of 22 documents, including the feasibility study and environmental impact assessment, of the controversial proposed dam to the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission (MRC).
The Pak Beng dam proposal will be assessed by the MRC during a six-month consultation process starting December 20, 2016.
However, those documents have been criticized as being outdated and lacking many crucial data and suggestive solutions to reduce the potential devastating effects the dam may have.
The set of documents also mentions nothing about the trans-boundary impacts of the dam, whose construction may affect the lives of dozens of millions of people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.
At Friday’s consultation process, experts said three hydropower dams in Laos, Pak Beng, Xayaburi and Don Sahong, have greatly affected the water flow of the Mekong River in the dry season, worsening the salinization in the Tien (Front) and Hau (Back) rivers, the two major branches of the Mekong River in southern Vietnam.
The Pak Beng dam is also likely to affect the aquatic habitats, a crucial source of nutrition for people living in the Mekong Delta.
The design for the Pak Beng dam does include a fish passage, but expert said the proposed passage will have little effect on allowing fish to swim up or downstream the river, eventually adversely impacting this precious aquatic resource.
Subsidence risk for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta
Speaking at Friday’s conference in Can Tho, Professor Nguyen Ngoc Tran said the proposed dam will severely impact the downstream sediment transport, which leads to subsidence.
Several Mekong Delta provinces have suffered serious subsidence in recent times and if the situation is not improved, in the next two to three decades, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta could be entirely submerged due to rising seas, the professor warned.
Dr. Vu Ngoc Long, from the Southern Institute of Ecology, urged a trans-boundary environmental impact assessment to be included to the proposed Pak Beng dam construction as 20 million Vietnamese people will be affected by the dam’s impacts on the Mekong River.
Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent expert specializing in studying the ecosystem in the Mekong Delta, reiterated the recent subsidence in the area and warned that these are not single incidents.
Thien also said the potential impact of the Pak Beng dam must be calculated in reference to other ten dams that have already been built or planned to be built by Laos and Cambodia on the Mekong River.
Some 20 million Vietnamese people now live along the Mekong River, whereas the respective numbers of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are 16 million, 6.8 million and 20 million.
With many countries all benefiting from the Mekong River, professor Tran said it would be unfair if Vietnam is the only to suffer when the precious resources on the river are affected.