Once, not that long ago, the Mekong River in Southeast Asia was a formidable waterway. Navigating much of the 4,350km-long river was a real challenge. The Mekong, which originates in China and empties into the South China Sea in Vietnam after passing through four other countries, has been largely tamed.
Worse: it has been badly diminished in its grandeur owing to a cascade of hydroelectric dams upstream. These dams, which number 11 in China and two in Laos, have wreaked irreversible damage to the once mighty waterway by fragmenting habitats and causing water levels to plunge to dangerous lows along long stretches of it downstream all the way to its delta in Vietnam.
And yet more dams are in the works. Laos, a landlocked and impoverished nation, is planning to construct a new 684-megawatt dam at the cost of $2 billion with Chinese backing. Most of the electricity generated would be exported to neighboring Thailand, which already has a surplus of electricity to meet domestic demand.
Daniel T Cross