National Geographic : 2015 May
Harnessing the mekong 113 1 2 3 4 5 6 120°E90°E20°N20°N15°PlateauofTibet Bangkok Yangon (Rangoon) Nay Pyi Taw Dhaka Phnom Penh Hanoi Vientiane Can Tho Ho Chi Minh City Hong Kong Ban Pak Ing Ban Khok Yai Kolkata (Calcutta) Baoshan Existing Mekong River dams Under construction HAINANCHINATAIWANCHINAVIETNAMLAOS Planned VIETNAMTHAILANDCAMBODIAMYANMAR(BURMA)BANGLADESHBHUTANNEPALINDIA Wunonglong dam Miaowei dam Gongguoqiao dam MEKONG RIVER DELTA Lancang(Mekong)Meko n gSan(Sesan) Tonle Sap Khone Falls MEKONG RIVER BASIN AndamanSeaGulfofTonkinSouthChinaSea Some 60 million people rely on fish caught in the Mekong River and on rice grown in its fertile delta. But the river is changing. China has built seven major dams in the past two decades; it has 21 more under construc- tion or planned. This so-called Mekong cascade is now headed downstream, with 11 new dams expected along the main stem in Laos and Cambodia. Those plans are pitting the region’s need for electricity against its need for food and against the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers, who depend on the river’s free-flowing waters. Threatened Lifeline 1. The tallest dam of the cascade, China’s Xiaowan dam began operating in 2010. 2. Nuozhadu dam began producing hydroelectric power in 2012. 3. Laos is building the Xayaburi dam despite objections from Cambodia and Vietnam, which fear its impact on food security and the Mekong’s ecology. 4. Construction will soon begin on the Don Sahong dam, blocking the only route that’s passable year-round by fish migrating between Cambodia and Laos. 5. The Lower Sesan 2 dam, on a tributary near the river’s conflu- ence with the Mekong, will also block a key fish migration route. 6. The Sambor dam could gener- ate up to 2,600 megawatts as currently planned, but it would displace some 19,000 people. China has more than 23,000 large dams, more than any other coun- try—and two-fifths of the world’s total. It’s also a leading builder and financier of dams abroad, includ- ing along the lower Mekong. SCALE VARIES IN THIS PERSPECTIVE. LENGTH OF MEKONG RIVER BASIN IS APPROXIMATELY 1,800 MILES (2,900 KILOMETERS); ITS AREA IS APPROXIMATELY 307,000 SQUARE MILES (795,000 SQUARE KILOMETERS).