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 Mekong River - The Lifeblood of Southeast Asia

The Mekong River is the heart and soul of mainland Southeast Asia. The 12th longest river in the world, the Mekong runs 4,800 kilometers from its headwaters on the Tibetan Plateau through Yunnan Province of China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam.

Over 60 million people depend on the Mekong and its tributaries for food, water, transport and many other aspects of their daily lives. Its annual flood-drought cycles are essential for the sustainable production of rice and vegetables on the floodplains and along the riverbanks during the dry season. Known as the Mother of waters, the river supports one of the world’s most diverse fisheries, second only to the Amazon.

This vital ecosystem and lifeblood of the region is currently under threat. Over the past ten years, more than 100 large dams have been proposed for the Mekong basin by institutions like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Mekong River Commission. Some of these projects have already been built.

One of the greatest threats is China s plans to construct eight dams on the Upper Mekong / Lancang. Two of these dams have already been completed, and construction on the third project, Xiaowan, began in January 2002. These dams will have widespread impacts on the livelihoods of Mekong communities and on the natural ecology of the river system.

In Laos, IRN is working to stop World Bank support for the Nam Theun 2 Dam and ensure that communities receive just compensation for losses suffered due to the ADB-funded Nam Theun-Hinboun and Nam Leuk Dams. IRN is also monitoring broader regional water resource developments, particularly those funded by the ADB.

In Thailand, IRN has been working with communities affected by the Pak Mun and Rasi Salai dams who are campaigning for the gates of both dams to be permanently opened and for the Mun River to be restored.

IRN is also monitoring the impacts of the Yali Falls Dam in Vietnam, which has affected communities in both Vietnam and Cambodia.

latest additions

Despite Protests, Burma’s Junta and China pushing Ahead with First Dam on the Irrawaddy
Damming the Irrawaddy, a report launched today by the Kachin Development Networking Group, exposes the social and environmental impacts of the dam, including the displacement of an estimated 10,000 people in northern Burmas Kachin State.
World Rivers Review: Special Focus on the Mekong (PDF)
World Rivers Review  
The June 2007 issue of IRN’s quarterly magazine takes an in-depth look at the diverse, magnificent Mekong. In addition to stories on key dam projects, the issue includes interviews with local activists, analysis of decentralized energy solutions for Thailand, and a map of dam threats in the basin.
Nam Theun 2 Trip Report and Project Update (PDF)
Halfway through Nam Theun 2’s construction, livelihood restoration programs for affected villagers are in jeopardy. IRN visited the area in March 2007 and gathered first-hand information from communities about how the project is affecting their lives. Read the full report (PDF). Read the executive summary (PDF). Read detailed notes from village visits (PDF).
History Repeats Itself in Laos: ADB’s Flagship Hydro Project Goes Awry
An article by IRN’s Aviva Imhof in Bankwatch, published by the NGO Forum on the ADB, examines Nam Theun 2’s failings and draws parallels to other ADB-funded dams in Laos: Theun-Hinboun, Nam Song and Nam Leuk. The article also highlights the ADB’s role in promoting a regional power grid and electricity trading system in the Mekong subregion.
NGOs Urge Lao Government to Abandon Don Sahong Dam Plans
Read this letter from 28 NGOs calling on the Lao Government to abandon its plans for the Don Sahong dam in the Khone Falls area of the Mekong. If constructed, Don Sahong would be the first dam built on the lower Mekong and would block the only channel that fish migrating from Cambodia can easily pass. Mega First Corp from Malaysia is currently conducting a feasibility study on the project.
Villagers Continue to Suffer Serious Livelihood Losses from Theun-Hinboun Dam in Laos (PDF)
Read a letter from IRN to the Theun-Hinboun Power Company raising questions and concerns over ongoing problems facing villagers affected by the Theun-Hinboun dam project in Laos.
Mekong Under Threat: New Strategy Promotes Dams and Diversions (PDF)
This IRN fact sheet discusses a new wave of large-scale water infrastructure projects threatening the Mekong River, supported by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) latest plan, the Mekong Water Resources Assistance Strategy (MWRAS). The MWRAS aggressively supports the construction of controversial dam, irrigation, and water diversion projects on the Mekong River and its tributaries. MWRAS misleadingly claims that the river’s ecological balance will not be adversely affected and that community-based programs can mitigate the impacts of large infrastructure projects.
IRN Analysis and Recommendations for the ADB’s Regional Energy Sector Strategy for the Mekong Region (PDF)
The ADB is conducting a study designed to develop a regional energy sector strategy for the Mekong Region. IRN’s analysis identifies several limitations in the design of the study including fundamental shortcomings with the proposed participatory processes, and calls on the ADB to support civil societies call for a Comprehensive Energy Options Assessment for the Mekong Region. Read IRN’s paper (PDF) and letter to the ADB (PDF). Read the ADB’s reply.
Nam Theun 2 Trip Report and Project Update
Construction is proceeding rapidly on Laos’ Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project while social and environmental measures are lagging behind. IRN visited the area in June 2006 and gathered first-hand information from communities about how the project is affecting their lives. Read the full report (PDF). Read the executive summary.
Laos’ Rivers: Open to the Highest Bidder (PDF)
An article by IRN’s Aviva Imhof in Watershed Magazine examines some of the planned hydropower projects for Laos and the implications of increasing regional investments in hydropower development.
Trading Away the Future: The Mekong Power Grid
IRN’s briefing paper outlines threats arising from the Mekong Power Grid scheme, proposed by the ADB, that would facilitate the construction of numerous hydropower schemes in Laos, Burma, and China’s Yunnan province to feed the power-hungry cities of Thailand and Vietnam. The briefing paper identifies alternative sustainable solutions that would satisfy the region’s energy needs, including the promotion of renewable energy technologies and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. (PDF)
ADB Urged to Organize Comprehensive Energy Options Assessment for the Mekong Region
Thirty NGOs - mostly from the Mekong region - have written to the Asian Development Bank urging the Bank to work with regional governments, donors and civil society to undertake a participatory assessment of the region’s energy needs - and the best options for meeting these needs - in line with World Commission on Dams’ recommendations. See the ADB’s reply (PDF).
World Bank Board Approves Nam Theun 2
The World Bank Board of Directors voted today to approve the Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos. Nam Theun 2 is the first major dam to be supported by the World Bank since it announced its intention to ramp up lending for large dams and other "high-risk" big infrastructure projects in 2003.
Controversial Lao Dam Not Suitable for World Bank Support
Controversial Lao Dam Not Suitable for World Bank Support. On September 10, the World Bank held its technical workshop on Laos’ proposed Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Washington DC. IRN and Environmental Defense issued a press advisory (PDF) outlining why this project is not suitable for World Bank financing. Sixteen North American NGOs wrote an open letter (PDF) to the World Bank expressing concerns about its support for the project.
Nam Theun 2: Letter to the World Bank by 16 NGOs (PDF)
Letter from 16 NGOs to World Bank Vice President Mr. Jemal-ud-din Kassum outlining the measures considered to be preconditions for credible international consultations on the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project. International stakeholder workshops on Nam Theun 2 are being planned for Bangkok, Paris, Tokyo and Washington DC from late-August to mid-September, 2004, but the World Bank has decided to hold "technical workshops" rather than consultations, and many of the preconditions outlined by NGOs have not been met. Read the letter.
Dams in Laos:  On the Record (PDF)
Contains selected quotes from official ADB documents and consultants’ reports pointing to some of the ongoing problem with hydropower development in Laos.
IRN letter to World Bank expressing concerns about non-disclosure of information for Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project.
Lao Hydropower Developer Terminates Agreement with IRN
IRN Response to Theun-Hinboun Power Company Decision
Hydroelectric Dams and the Forgotten People of the Boloven Plateau (PDF)
More than 2,000 ethnic minority people have been forcibly displaced to make way for the Houay Ho and Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Dams in Laos. These people are living in appalling conditions in resettlement sites where they lack sufficient arable land and supplies of fresh water. Read the report from a field visit to the area in 2003.
The Legacy of Hydro in Laos (PDF)
Hydropower projects developed over the past decade in Laos have left a legacy of destroyed livelihoods and damaged ecosystems. This paper documents the unresolved social and environmental impacts of five different dam projects in Laos.
Sizing Up the Grid: How the Mekong Power Grid Compares Against the Policies of the Asian Development Bank
Report reveals how the Mekong Power Grid violates ADB policies. Click here for press release.
Letter to World Bank Executive Directors raising concerns about the economic, social and environmental viability of Laos’ Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project.
Read IRN’s updated briefing paper: "Nam Theun 2: Another World Bank Disaster in the Making." (PDF)
NGOs Urge Asian Development Bank to Reject Support for Hydropower Projects in Burma
Groups concerned with inclusion of Tasang Dam in power grid master plan
ADB Plan Supports a Dozen More Dams for the Mekong
IRN press release on Power Grid Master Plan
Letter from 40 NGOs from 21 Countries to James Wolfensohn
President of the World Bank, calling for release of key documents relating to the Nam Theun 2 Project in Lao PDR.
Unprecedented Protest in Laos Against Nam Mang 3 Dam
IRN fact-finding mission report documents first-ever protest against dams in Laos and outstanding problems with Nam Mang 3.
May 2003
Burmese Groups Voice Opposition to Blasting of Mekong Rapids
52 Burmese organizations urged the Chinese government to halt the project until further studies are completed, affected people are fully consulted and alternatives are investigated.
NGOs Urge Government to Open Pak Mun Gates
26 organizations wrote to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra urging him to open the dam gates and restore the Mun River.
River of Controversy: Damming and Blasting the Mekong Briefing Kit
Development of the Mekong basin threatens to undermine the livelihoods of millions in Southeast Asia.