South-East Asian nations surrounding the Lower Mekong Basin should put construction of hydro-electric dams on the Mekong River on hold if they want to avoid a human security disaster more reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa than modern Asia, a University of Sydney PhD candidate researching the impact of hydro-electric development on the river says.
In a paper published by the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies , Chris Baker calls for a holistic approach, assessing dams for their impact on the entire Mekong Basin rather than looking only at their effect on individual states.
The paper Dams, Power and Security in the Mekong says proliferation of dams could destroy the livelihoods of millions, devastate the economies of Cambodia and Vietnam, and force many to migrate: "The social ramification of such migration is often resentment in the receiving communities against new arrivals. There is documented evidence of this exacerbating ethnic or political tensions leading to violent conflict."
"The forced relocation of hundreds of thousands in the Mekong Basin, similar to that witnessed with the removal of 1.4 million people during construction of the Three Gorges’ Dam in China, is just the beginning," adds Baker, a student at the University’s Centre for International Security Studies.
"In the longer term, the havoc wrought on fisheries and the impact on agriculture brought about by these dams is likely to create a food security catastrophe."
Baker assessed the impact of the Mekong’s current and proposed hydro-electric dams on regional security and wants South-East Asian nations to heed a call for a 10-year moratorium on new dams.
Baker says the "hydropower gold-rush" sweeping the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) - running through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - is a serious threat to the peace and stability of the region. If continued unabated it raises the spectre of chaos like that of the Arab Spring.