New Mekong dam opens to protests and dried-up riverbed

  • Thailand
  • Wednesday, 30 Oct 2019

Erratic flow: A screengrab from an aerial video showing dry patches along the Mekong river downstream from the Xayaburi Dam. — AFP

BAN NAMPRAI (Thailand): The first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong River began commercial operations in Laos amid protests from villagers in Thailand who say the Xayaburi Dam and several others in the works will destroy their livelihoods.

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi Dam’s debut yesterday coincides with parts of the Mekong drying to a trickle even at the end of the rainy season, though its builders and operators say it is not responsible for the reduced river flow.

Xayaburi, which will sell 95% of its power to Thailand at an average rate of 2 baht (RM0.27) per unit, is the first of at least nine more hydropower projects either under construction or planned on the lower Mekong in Laos.

The new spate of dam-building is poised to turbo-charge already-fraught water and food security disputes after years of worry about the 11 existing Beijing-built dams on the upper Mekong in China are choking the river on which millions depend for their livelihoods in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Xayaburi Dam has been nine years in the making and the 135 billion baht (RM18.6bil) project, built and financed by Thai companies and banks, has been controversial since inception.

Yesterday, Buddhist monks on the Thai side of the Mekong chanted and provided blessings in a ceremony for the river, which activists from the Freedom Mekong Group says is in danger of dying.

“When Xayaburi dam officially generates electricity... we won’t be able to know how the river will change and how bad it will deteriorate, ” said activist Montri Chanthawong.

About 150km to the south of Xayaburi, the fishing village of Ban Namprai is having its driest year in living memory.

Villagers say the Mekong is normally at least 3m high at the end of the rainy season, when Ban Namprai typically holds dragon boat races, which this year had to be cancelled.

Fishermen and fish farmers said that since March, when Xayaburi first started testing their turbines, they’ve seen ever-more erratic river flow that can’t be explained just by a drought earlier in the year. — Reuters

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