ADB Plan Supports a Dozen More Dams for the Mekong

International Rivers Network
Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Critics say plan is destructive, 40 years out of date

A new Asian Development Bank report has recommended the construction of a regional power grid in mainland Southeast Asia fueled exclusively by hydropower. Twelve dams in Burma, China and Laos are proposed to generate power for consumers in Thailand and Vietnam.

The long-awaited report, released last month by the ADB and carried out by the Norwegian hydropower consulting company Norconsult, examines different scenarios of grid development and power cooperation. The report recommends a $43 billion generation and transmission system which includes the controversial Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos, Nuozhadu and Jinghong dams on the Upper Mekong in China, Tasang Dam in Burma and Sambor Dam on the Mekong mainstream in Cambodia, among others.

Mak Sithirith, coordinator of the Cambodian Fisheries Action Coalition Team, says

"The ADB's grand design of building hydropower dams will bring more harm and exploitation to the people of the Mekong river basin. Dams in China and Laos will disrupt the river's fisheries and hydrology, destroying the livelihoods of millions living downstream."

The power grid is being promoted by the ADB through a poor process of development without consultation with affected people, without a full assessment of energy options and without a cumulative assessment of the impacts of the grid and the hydropower projects it would support.

The project's economics are also questionable. While the recommended scenario is estimated to save about $900 million, Norconsult admits the savings are only "in the order of magnitude of 1-2% in relative terms," meaning that grid development will have minimal impacts on consumer electricity tariffs.

Susanne Wong of International Rivers Network says

"With such marginal economic benefits and huge potential impacts, it is shocking that the ADB is pursuing such a high-risk plan. Norconsult and the ADB are stuck in a 1960s mentality, believing that the only viable energy choices for the region are hydro and fossil fuels. Instead of considering more sustainable options like renewables, demand-side management or decentralized systems, the ADB and its consultants are continuing in their dogged pursuit of hydropower."

In the coming months, International Rivers Network together with other NGOs will conduct more detailed technical reviews of the 700-page master plan.