Xayaburi and Subsequent Mekong Dams Could Deprive Millions of Protein
28 Aug 2012 - 10:00 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
Sweden, STOCKHOLM — Hydropower dams planned for the lower mainstem of the Mekong River could decimate fish populations and with them the primary source of protein for 60 million people, according to a new study by international conservation organization WWF and the Australian National University.
The report comes at a time when work appears to be moving ahead on the controversial Xayaburi dam in Laos, despite a decision by the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission to halt the project pending further studies.
Study co-author Stuart Orr, freshwater manager at WWF International, told OOSKAnews at World Water Week in Stockholm on August 28 that “Xayaburi will be the first of the planned dams to span the lower Mekong mainstem, unlike the Chinese dams further upstream. There are 11 planned dam projects on the Mekong mainstem, and another 77 dams planned in the basin by 2030. The regional governments worked for suspension of the Xayaburi to give time for assessment of food security concerns. This study is a first effort at assessing the concerns.”
“The Mekong countries are striving for economic growth, and they see hydropower as a driver of that growth. But they must first fully understand and take into account the true economic and social value of a free-flowing Mekong,” according to Orr, who stresses that the report should not be viewed narrowly as being against hydropower.
“There are suitable hydro sites in Laos, for example, that should be fast-tracked.”
The study, “Dams on the Mekong River: Lost fish protein and the implications for land and water resources,” looks at two scenarios: replacement of lost fish protein directly attributable to the proposed 11 mainstem dams, and replacement of the net loss in fish protein due to the impact of all 88 proposed dam developments.
If all 11 planned mainstem dams were built, the fish supply would be cut by 16 percent, with an estimated financial loss of $476 million USD a year, according to the study. If all 88 projects were completed, the fish supply could fall 37.8 percent.
It is further claimed that the impact of the mainstem Mekong dams would extend far beyond the river, as people turn to agriculture to replace lost calories, protein and micronutrients.
The report studies the effects on both land and water as people are forced to shift to cows, pigs, poultry and other sources to meet their protein requirements. On top of 1,350 square kilometers of land lost to dam reservoirs, the countries would need a minimum of 4,863 square kilometers of new pasture land to replace fish protein with livestock. The high end of the estimate if all dams were built is 24,188 square kilometers -- a 63 percent increase in land dedicated to livestock.
Water requirements would jump on average between 6 and 17 percent. But these averages mask the considerably higher figures for Cambodia and Laos.
Under scenario one, with 11 dams on the mainstem, Cambodia would need to dedicate an additional 29-64 percent more water to agriculture and livestock; Laos’ water footprint would increase by 12-24 percent.
Under the second scenario, with all 88 dams, these numbers shift dramatically, with an increase of 42-150 percent for Cambodia and 18-56 percent for Laos.
“Policymakers in the region need to ask themselves where they are going to find this additional land and water,” says Orr. “The Mekong demonstrates the links between water, food and energy. If governments put the emphasis on energy, there are very real consequences for food and water -- and therefore people.”