When Zeus warned Pandora never to open the box given to her, the temptation proved too strong and Pandora forever unleashed into the world misery, suffering and sorrow. Today, much like this mythical Greek tragedy, the decision-makers of the Mekong sub-region face a similar temptation in the form of a cascade of hydropower dams proposed for the
They have also received Zeus’ warning from a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report that warns of the grave social and environmental consequences should the dams proceed.
In September last year, the government of
Over the next four months, the governments of
The initiation of this regional decision-making process on the Xayaburi dam pre-empted by three weeks the release of the SEA report, which was commissioned by the MRC in May 2009 and was originally intended to inform future decisions on mainstream dam development.
Whilst to most it would seem common sense to consider the SEA report’s recommendations before moving to more advanced stages of decision-making, given the report’s hard-to-swallow findings for mainstream dam developers, it is perhaps not so surprising that the Xayaburi dam has been pushed quickly ahead by its proponents, leap-frogging the launch of the SEA report by weeks.
The SEA report concludes that construction of dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream would irreversibly undermine the ecology and economic productivity of the river and will place at risk the livelihoods and food security of millions of people who depend upon the river’s resources.
It recommends that decision-making on
With very limited commitment to transparency and accountability in this new decision-making process, however, it seems that common sense might be in short supply, although civil society groups and the wider public have tried to make their opinions heard. In October 2009, for example, a 23,000-signature petition calling for the
Listening to public opinion through meaningful consultation would help limit Pandora’s temptation. Yet, whilst the regional decision-making procedures over the Xayaburi dam began three months ago, the MRC only publicly released an ambiguous road map for its implementation late last month.
Remarkably, whilst comment is invited, the project’s documents have not been disclosed to the public, rendering the process opaque, unaccountable and increasingly lacking in credibility.
If built, the Xayaburi dam will forcibly resettle over 2,100 people and over 200,000 people would suffer a direct impact on their livelihoods through the loss of fisheries, riverbank gardens, agricultural land and forests. Furthermore, the dam would block a critical fish migration route – including for 23 fish species that travel from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake – and scientists from around the world have concluded that there is no viable mitigation technology. Up to 41 fish species would face the threat of extinction, including the iconic Mekong Giant Catfish.
The myth of Pandora’s box has long been used as a lesson in the dangers of curiosity, temptation and the weaknesses of human nature. The question is, can we heed Pandora’s lesson before it is too late?
The decision lies not in the mystical domain of the Greek gods, but in the hands of the governments of
In a world facing a growing food and water crisis, working together to protect and share the
Ame Trandem is a campaigner with the NGO International Rivers, a partner of the Save the