LUANG PRABANG, Laos (Reuters) - On a wide bank of the Mekong River, yellow markers and visits by surveyors show preparations underway to build Laos’ third and largest dam on Southeast Asia’s most vital waterway.
About an hour downstream, in the laid-back tourist centre of Luang Prabang, the dam’s developers heard this week from citizens groups arguing for a delay to the 1,400-megawatt (MW) hydropower project.
Sceptics say the Lao government and its Vietnamese and Thai partners should wait to assess any impact on downstream fishing and farming from the recently completed Xayaburi dam, Laos’ first mainstream Mekong hydropower project.
Faced with growing pressure from dams, pollution and sand mining, concerns are mounting about the health of the river and those whose livelihoods depend on it.
Construction on the Luang Prabang project is slated to begin later this year, but some nearby villagers said they still don’t know when or if they will be relocated.
“We have not heard anything, but if it happens there is no choice for us,” said a farmer interviewed near the dam site, who gave his name only as Somphorn.
The past year has been fraught for the 2,390-km (1,485 mile) Lower Mekong, which supports 60 million people as it flows from China into Laos, past Myanmar and Thailand and through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Water levels hit lows not seen for 50 years, as residents worried about the effects of climate change and 11 dams that China has built in its territory, which many believe are holding back waters.