Toggle Nav

Mekong River at Risk

Deferral of Mekong dam shows recognition of potential negative impacts

The Mekong River flows from the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau in China, through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia before ending its journey in Vietnam in the South China Sea. It is home to over 1,300 species of fish, including the Mekong giant catfish, the largest freshwater fish in the world.

As the world's largest inland fishery the river provides 25% of the world’s freshwater catch, and is worth up to 7 billion dollars annually. It supports at least 60 million people and is the main source of protein for a majority of people living in the river basin.

Looming threat for people and fish

However, the river is under threat from large-scale hydropower development. In the lower Mekong, there are currently 11 dams in different planning stages of development, including the Xayaburi dam project.

Findings from a new WWF-commissioned review about this 2,700-foot proposed barrier revealed that environmental assessments fell well below international standards. And following increased concerns from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the intergovernmental panel of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) today deferred the final decision on the construction of the dam to the ministerial level.  

Results from the deferral of the dam

This decision highlights the relevance and importance of environmental and social impacts in the decision making process. The recognition of associated risks from unsustainable dam development is crucial for the survival of fisheries and millions of people in the Mekong River Basin. Two main risks include the obstruction of the estimated 600 migratory fish species that swim to their spawning ground and the trapping of sediment by dams upstream that prohibits the replenishment of the delta's nutrients.

WWF supports a 10-year delay in the approval of lower Mekong mainstream dams, including the Xayaburi hydropower dam. A comprehensive understanding of all the impacts of their construction and operation is needed and immediate energy needs will be met with other less challenging projects where state of the art sustainable hydropower solutions may be fast tracked on selected tributaries.

Learn more