Hydropower Clean Energy: The impact of Lancang Dams in Mekong River threaten Southeast Asia’s food insecurity.

I have written a few contemplated reflections before, but this class’s focus on fossil fuel contemplation has really caught my attention.
There are many talks right now about substituting fossil fuel with electricity as vehicles’ main source of energy. The rise of electric cars, especially the Tesla models, is an example. Although electric energy is usually viewed as a clean source of energy, the benefits of this energy is not the same everywhere. In fact, it could prove to be more destructive than fossil fuel in developing countries. People in developing countries tend to destroy their ecosystem by producing electricity. Since many of these countries could not access clean and eco-friendly ways to produce electricity, they tend to produce energy via hydropower dams. These dams could destroy the livelihood of many people who depends on the water resources from the rivers.
I was born in the Southern part of Vietnam, where rivers are central to life. The Mekong-the grandest river of all, stems from China and flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Mekong River Watershed, source Wikipedia


The Mekong river is more than just a river, it is a source of life. It provides people fishes to eat, freshwater to drink, fertile silt and sedimentation to cultivate and many other essential functions for agricultural production. However, China hadalredy built six hydropower dams along the river, and at least 14 more dams will be complete in 10 more years. One of these dams, the Lancang dam, in the Upper Mekong region has adversely impacted the Lower Mekong regions.

Lancang River Dams in China, source: International River


According to International River, the Lancang dam is threatening Southeast Asia’s food security by blocking fish immigration, reducing natural sedimentation deposit, and creating erosions. People who live in the Lower Mekong delta are facing great threat from these dams, particularly the indigenous communities along the river. Importantly, competition for scarce water sources create tension on international scale.

1 thought on “Hydropower Clean Energy: The impact of Lancang Dams in Mekong River threaten Southeast Asia’s food insecurity.

  1. Anna C Maxwell

    First Blog Response
    Dear, Sammy Huynh
    As a National Geographic article put it “the people of Southeast Asia need the clean electricity—but also the fish and rice that an undammed river provides” (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/05/mekong-river-dams/) . Dams and water right issues generally involved careful examination of a complex set of tradeoffs/ a complex cost-benefit analysis. As @Sammyhuynh so accurately pointed out these damns not only have huge negative environmental effects, but also huge negative social effects.

    Beyond the negative externalities there are also complex issues of inter country politics, properties rights and indigenous rights. Interestingly enough in the 60s the US actually advocated for the construction these hydropower dams on the lower Mekong, hoping to develop the region’s economy and reduce the spread of communism in the region.  These plans were slowed and in the 90s China (not Southeast Asia), was first to dam the main river. It is so interesting how complex global politics are intertwined with such issues and how indirect national policy discussions from decades past can have lasting impact.

    On a different note- “A 2013 analysis by the International Energy Agency predicts that the region’s demand for power will increase by 80 percent in the next 20 years” (nat geo article above). So, there is a huge need for energy in this part of the world. This is where the trade off part of hydropower comes in. As we learned in class fossil fuel derived forms of energy cause climate change, so clean power sources are favorable- like hydropower from Mekong. (especially for small, poor countries such as Laos). In Loas official build the Thai-financed Xayaburi damn along remote parts of the Mekong hoping to be the “battery of the Southeast Asia” and to attract foreign investment. They however did not get approval for the damn and denied building it for years.

    One overarching theme about these dams seems to be that the burden and negative externalities of the dam seem to fall on the poorest and most vulnerable while the government reps the benefits either directly or through rents. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in our class.

    I really liked how you brought up some of the negative aspects of hydropower. Many people naturally assume because it is a renewable source of energy it is all good, but the water rights and dam issues are so complex and emotionally loaded it is often feels reductionist to make a simple cost-benefit analysis. There are so many environmental, social, political, economical implications involved in damning a river. It is never straight forward- thanks for the article

    Reply

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