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IRN’s Southeast Asia Campaign

Rivers play a central role in the lives of millions of people in Southeast Asia. They provide fish, fresh water, fertile silt, transportation, recreation, and many other essential functions. Rivers and their catchments - the lifeblood of the region - are increasingly under threat from ill-conceived development schemes.

A growing network of activists and individuals is challenging the construction of destructive river development projects in the region. RWESA - Rivers Watch East and Southeast Asia was formed in 2000 to stop destructive river development, promote alternatives and fight for reparations for people affected by existing dams. RWESA has more than 80 members from 14 countries and is organizing coordinated campaigns to pressure governments and institutions to adopt the guidelines of the World Commission on Dams and stop Japan Bank for International Cooperation support for destructive dams. Visit the RWESA website at www.rwesa.org.

The Mekong Basin has been a major focus of IRN’s work in Southeast Asia. Over the past ten years more than 100 large dams have been proposed for the region. Some of these dams are already under construction and others are in the advanced stages of planning. These dams will have widespread impacts on the livelihoods of Mekong communities and on the natural ecology of the river system. IRN works to promote appropriate river management in the Mekong Basin, and to discourage investment in destructive large dams from institutions like the Asian Development Bank.

In Thailand, IRN works with communities affected by the Pak Mun and Rasi Salai Dams on the Mun River who are demanding that the gates of both dams be permanently opened and the river restored. In July 2000, the Thai government agreed to open the Rasi Salai Dam gates for two years, and in 2001 the Thai government agreed to keep the Pak Mun Dam gates open for one year to conduct studies.

In the Philippines, the San Roque Dam is threatening the lives of the indigenous Ibaloi peoples of Itogon, Benguet, in the mountainous Cordillera region. IRN works with the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance and the Ibaloi community organization, the Shalupirip Santahnay Indigenous People’s Movement, to stop the Japan Bank for International Cooperation from investing in the project.

In Malaysia, IRN has worked to discourage private investment in the 2400 MW Bakun Dam project in Sarawak. The dam, which was stalled during the Asian economic crisis, was revived in 2001 by the Malaysian government. Since 1999, 10,000 indigenous people have suffered under appalling conditions at the Sungai Asap resettlement site. Several hundred villagers have refused to move from their ancestral lands and face government repression.

The Vietnamese government has focused its attention on constructing dams for irrigation and electricity generation. The proposed $3.5 billion Son La Dam would be the largest dam in Vietnam and displace almost 100,000 people. However, resistance in the National Assembly has delayed the project for the last year. Recent studies on the impacts of the Yali Falls Dam reveal that the project has caused serious impacts on people displaced and communities living downstream. IRN is currently monitoring ongoing and planned hydropower projects in Vietnam.

latest additions

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.
Burma’s Salween Dams Threaten Half a Million Lives Downstream
In the Balance, a report released by the Mon Youth Progressive Organization (MYPO), reveals that over half a million city residents, farmers, and fisher folk living at the mouth of the Salween River in Burma stand to lose their major source of drinking water, agricultural productivity, and fish stocks if dams planned upstream go ahead.
Activists Worldwide Call on Thailand to Abandon the Salween River Dams
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the state-owned Chinese Sinohydro Corporation have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the development of the Hutgyi hydropower project, one of the five major dam projects to be installed in Burma and along the Thailand-Burma border with the combined capacity of 12,700 MW. According to the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed by EGAT and Burmese Ministry of Electric Power in December 2005, the construction of the Hutgyi dam is planned to commence in December this year.
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.
A Work in Progress: Study on the Impacts of Vietnam’s Son La Hydropower Project
Vietnam’s ambitious Son La Hydropower Project could face serious problems if the government’s plan to resettle 100,000 mostly ethnic people is not carried out in a just and fair manner. A new study by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) documents the problems with the resettlement program so far, and suggests solutions that could prevent resettlement plans going awry.  
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.
Proposed Salween Dams Revive Development Nightmare for Karenni in Burma
Threatened with plans by Burma’s generals to dam the Salween River and submerge vast tracts of their homelands, the Karenni Development Research Group’s new report exposes the parallels between the devastating impacts of Burma’s first large scale hydropower project, built in their state, and those of the planned Salween dams. The report highlights the destructive mix of development and military rule in Burma. Read the press release. Read the report (PDF, 2.5 MB).
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.
Analysis of Nam Theun 2 Compliance with World Commission on Dams Guidelines
This comprehensive analysis shows that Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Laos fails to comply with six of the seven WCD Strategic Priorities. Read the Executive Summary of the analysis (PDF).
Mekong Leaders to Sign Risky Power Trade Agreement
Read an analysis, press release and petition to ADB.
World Bank Moves Forward on Nam Theun 2, Project’s Ability to Reduce Poverty Still in Question
The World Bank announced today that it is beginning appraisal of the proposed US$1.3 billion Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Lao PDR. This decision marks an important milestone and indicates that World Bank Management intends to bring the project before the World Bank Board of Directors soon, likely by the end of March 2005. Read the press release.
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.
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.