As the world rushes into implementing the commitments enshrined in the historic climate deal in Paris in December, the use of large dams to mitigate climate change is becoming more popular across Asia and the world. But for many environmental and social advocates, this source of water and power remains a questionable solution that may even exacerbate our already fragile river resources. Eco-Business takes a look into the debate surrounding mega dams.
Le Van Nam has difficulty sleeping at night thinking of the fall in yields year after year on his rice field allegedly due to less silt being washed down the Mekong River because of upstream dams.
“In the last winter-spring crop, my 5,000 square meters only produced 3.5 tons of rice while it was four tons the previous year,” the farmer from An Giang Province said.
Declining flows down the Mekong River due to the building of dams upstream have been partly blamed – as have severe droughts — for reduced yields and worsening erosion in the delta.
According to the An Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, floods in the 4,900-km river used to bring silt and fish.
However, declining flows in recent years have made the land less fertile.
So, last week I attended a meeting held at Can Tho University entitled ‘Sustainable Uses of Mekong Water Resources’. With Can Tho sitting squarely in the middle of the Mekong Delta, and suffering dreadfully from the current drought, the debate was highly emotional. And often very loud.
Participants acknowledged El Niño and climate change as two variables responsible for the absence of rain. But most of the ire was directed at mainstream dams north of the delta.Mainstream dams. South of the China border, none of these are complete, and just two are under construction. The Laotian dams were certainly focussed upon, but most of the concern was with the Chinese dams. Recently, China has released a considerable quantum of water from their dams, with the stated aim of assisting their drought-stricken neighbours to the south. The reasons for these releases were treated with scepticism.
Asia’s water woes are worsening. Already the world’s driest continent in per capita terms, Asia now faces a severe drought that has parched a vast region extending from southern Vietnam to central India. This has exacerbated political tensions, because it has highlighted the impact of China’s dam-building policy on the environment and on water flows to the dozen countries located downstream.
A major new study warns that a planned cascade of hydropower dams along the Mekong River could cause “very high adverse effects on some of the key sectors and environmental resources in Cambodia and Viet Nam.”
Viet Nam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has just publicly released “Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower on the Mekong River”, also known as the “Delta Study.” The study used models to simulate various dam construction scenarios. And the results raise alarm bells for the over 60 million people who rely on the Mekong Delta for their livelihoods.
The Mekong River now has so many dams that one of the worlds mightiest rivers could almost run dry. In the dry season, river levels do in fact become dangerous for the rare river dolphins, Orcaella brevirostris Illegal fishermen and stranding opportunities increase, but the good news this March, as river levels rise again, is that no animals were lost and 3 calves were born near the delta. 688 river guards protect the dolphins and the river in Cambodia and the Lao PDR, and that investment surely must be helping! The WWF report the story here.
Many plants and animals rely on the might flow of the Mekong, with 1100 fish species alone, thousands of insects, mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles well-known to researchers. The dolphins feed on fish, cephalopods and crustacea, facing intense competition from humpback and bottlenose dolphins when at the coast. Perhaps the 90 or so dolphins in Lao PDR and Cambodia can act as suitable emblems of the extinction possibilities threatening the rainforest and the riverine species. This dolphin is classed as Vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red Book classification, like many others of its order and so many others in the rapidly disappearing habitats around SE Asia.
China will release more water from a dam in its southwestern province of Yunnan to help alleviate a drought in parts of Southeast Asia, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, following an initial release begun last month.
China and Japan are eager to be involved in massive special economic zone (SEZ) projects in Myanmar, amid rising economic competition in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Since 2011, Myanmar has rapidly improved its diplomatic relations with the West and Japan in order to broaden its economic relations and mitigate its excessive dependence on China.
Research commissioned by Vietnam has warned of devastating environmental and economic effects for millions of people living along the Mekong River if 11 proposed dams are built on its mainstream.
Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Chu Pham Ngoc Hien made the call at the fifth meeting of the Vietnam – Netherlands Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change Adaptation and Water Management in Hanoi on March 30.
He noted that the issue had been raised in the committee’s fourth meeting but so far no suitable partners were found for the work.
The Deputy Minister highlighted the success of Mekong Delta Plan, adding that after reviewing the recommendations made by the plan, Vietnam realised that more in-depth measures are needed to improve water management in the Delta.