10/08/2012, 00.00
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Experts warn China's fifth Mekong dam will have a "devastating" impact

by Paul N. Hung
Beijing just finished a plant capable of generating 24,000 GW in Yunnan province. A US study indicates it will cause "huge damages" to agriculture, fishing and human life. The river flow might be altered and seawater might flood its delta.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - China has secretly built d its fifth mega hydroelectric dam (Nọa Trác Độ) on the Upper Mekong. The project was set to be completed by the year. However, environmentalists fear it will further upset the region's environment and affect the lives of some 60 million people and their descendants. The warning comes from the Washington-based Stimson Center, which noted that the Nuozhadu Dam in China's Yunnan province, together with four dams built previously, has already altered the hydrology as well as the plant and animal life of the 5,000-km river.

Once it becomes operational, the dam will generate about 24,000 GW of electricity per year, a godsend for Beijing, which has been seeking new sources of power to fuel its industrial production. Some 50,000 people were forced from their homes to give way to the project. At the same time, the environment and the communities in various nations living downstream from the dam, as far as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, are under a serious threat.

The study by the Stimson Center indicates that the dam will cause "huge damages" to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and even Vietnam. For experts, it will change the river's flow, with a huge negative impact on agriculture downstream. This will be the case especially for the Lower Mekong region, in Vietnam, where seawater will invade ever-larger areas of the delta.

Milton Osborne, an Australian expert at the Lowy Institute, said that the impact of China's fifth dam on the Mekong would indeed be "devastating" despite Beijing's claims that "only 13.5 per cent" of the water in the Mekong as a whole flows through China. However, during the dry season, that goes up to "40 per cent" of the river's volume overall, according to Osborne.

Discussions over the consequences of existing and future dams on the Mekong have gone on for years since millions of people depend on the river for fish, water and transportation.

Some 12 hydroelectric dams are planned for the lower Mekong, which flows through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. However, China's existing and future dams are the most worrisome since the Mekong originates in that country and covers a long stretch in it.

What is more, when it comes to its dams, Beijing has been accused of lack of transparency, even though international law requires that it provide information about its dams to all the countries that could be impacted.

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