The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Hydropower and Equitable Economic Growth in the Mekong River Region

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on April 24, 2013

In a bid to meet the increasing demand for electricity in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to support economic growth, several hydropower dams have been constructed along the Mekong river, with many more in the pipeline. In Cambodia, there is the potential to harness  hydropower capacity of up to 8,000 MW from 43 potential sites for dams, which are in the planning stages of construction. In Laos, the potential of hydropower development is around 26,000 MW. These hydropower projects, however, have to potential to destroy wetland econsystems, seriously threaten the quality and security of water and affect other water-related resources, such as fish as sources of livelihood and the quality of arable land for agricultural products. There are about 60 million people live in Lower Mekong Basin Countries, who rely on these resources and services that will suffer. Moreover, when the services of this ecosystem are lost, it is often the poor who are most affected.Traditional livelihood systems will likely be adversely affected and thus a grave concern for indigenous people living along the Se San, Se Kong and Srey Pok rivers. In the case of Yali Falls, Cambodians have died as a result of floods caused by test operations of hydroelectric projects, and property has been lost. There has also been an increased spread of diseases that might be related to deteriorating water quality, coupled with the general deteriorating health of Cambodians. Since then, Cambodians feel a sense of insecurity as they do not know when the next flood will occur.

In order to measure the impact of dams, which can assist in reducing inequality in the country as well as the region, hydropower development policies should be given further consideration in terms of flood prevention or mitigation, the provision of irrigation for agricultural development, water supply  for domestic, municipal and industrial use as well as the improvement of conditions necessary for navigation, fishing, tourism or leisure activities. In terms of policies related to involuntary resettlement, displaced people should be engaged in the resettlement process in order to get productivity and resume responsibility for their lives. By participating in the resettlement schemes, the communities will have the chance to raise their concerns and preferences for finding alternative living areas that they find as being conducive supporting their livelihood needs. Furthermore, providing appropriate compensation packages to the resettled people should be implemented so as to ensure that they are able to recover their livelihood options in the short term.

It is with this context in mind, that my research under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, will examine the improvements made in hydropower development policies in the Mekong Region to reduce the impact of hydropower dam on the affected communities. It is believed that such improvements will contribute to the economic development in the region without increasing inequality. Finally, the findings of this research will respond to the ASEAN-Canada plan of action by providing evidence-based policy improvements.

This blog post has been written by Kesa Ly. Kesa is a Research and Development Advisor at Life With Dignity and Research Fellow at M-POWER, and a Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


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