Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Thai geologists are warning that the Xayaburi dam, currently under construction in Laos, could have devastating consequences on the entire ecosystem of the Mekong Delta region because of the site's high seismic risk.
Experts note that the massive barrage is being built near active fault lines; however, dam builders claim that the project complies with all seismic design guidelines.
Last week, the Vietnam Rivers Network, a Vietnam-based group of NGOs, called for the immediate suspension of the Xayaburi dam project, citing risks to fisheries, food security and livelihood.
Geologist Dr Punya Charusiri of Chulalungkorn University in Bangkok has led the charge against the project, which "poses a potential danger" because of "active faults close to the dam site".
In his view, there is "a 30 per cent chance of a medium-sized earthquake hitting the dam site in the next 30 years, and a 10 per cent chance of a powerful earthquake of up to magnitude 7."
For the scientist, construction should "never have started" at such a site without further research into potential disasters. For their part, Cambodian authorities raised the alarm as early as 2011.
In recent years, the area has experienced significant seismic activity, including a 6.3-magnitude quake that hit the Xayaburi area in 2007. A 6.9 magnitude quake also hit neighbouring Myanmar on 24 March 2011, killing 151 people.
Dam builders Pöyry Energy's Swiss subsidiary and Thai company CH. Karnchang insist that the project meets the highest safety standards in accordance with seismic design guidelines prepared by the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD).
The US$ 3.5 billion, 1.26-megawatt hydropower project is in its early phase with less than 10 per cent complete. Although located in a remote area in northern Laos, the dam has already displaced more than 2,100 villagers.
Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have called for a ten-year moratorium without success. Meanwhile, there has been a 300,000 tonnes drop in fish catch.
The Mekong River starts in the Tibetan plateau, flows through China's Yunnan province until it reaches Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
About 65 million people live along the river, relying on fish farms and the natural fishery, which is worth an estimated US$ 3 billion.
Considered the second most important river in the world in terms of biodiversity, the 4,880-km long Mekong is threatened by a number of projects involving dams and hydroelectric power plants.