At World Water Week 2012, WWF warns of the looming impacts large dam projects have on the environment and on food security for millions of people. A WWF study concluded that in the Mekong Basin of Southeast Asia some 60 million people are currently affected.
Generating energy from hydropower is considered by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to be a positive approach, in principle. However, this can quickly have a boomerang effect, as demonstrated by the WWF freshwater expert Stefan Ziegler at the World Water Week, end of August 2012 in Stockholm/Sweden, on the basis of a study of eleven dam projects being planned by the governments of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Numerous fish species will disappear, causing local fishery to collapse because the animals natural migratory paths will be blocked, warned Ziegler. The consequence will be a threat to the livelihoods of many millions of people.
The current study on the situation in the lower Mekong Basin in Southeast Asia is exemplary for the potential dangers that large dams can have on food security. In addition to building the eleven hydropower plants in the mainstream Mekong, a further 77 are scheduled in tributary waters. If the plans become reality, the environmental organisation reckons with an enormous reduction of fish stocks. For the 60 million people inhabiting the catchment area of the Mekong river the consequences would be dramatic. The fishing catch would be eroded by almost 40 per cent. That is a serious threat because most households depend on fish as their staple food, warns Stefan Ziegler.
WWF estimates an economic damage of some 476 million US dollars per year caused solely by building the eleven dams on the Mekong mainstream.
The food supply situation of the population could become even more dramatic. To compensate for the losses of fish and cover the people’s protein needs, WWF states that far more meat would have to be produced. Additional farming areas would be needed in the region, pressure on major nature reserves would increase. In Thailand, WWF fears the loss of the last remaining forest areas in the east of the country. The few floodplain forests of the Mekong are home to numerous threatened species, warns WWF expert Ziegler. In some places, it is no longer possible to expand agriculture. In the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, there is the danger that thousands of people will be resettled because no other areas are available to supply the population, fears Ziegler.
In order to avoid these negative consequences, WWF demands a 10-year moratorium to allow an environmentally and socially sound hydropower planning to be carried out for the Mekong region. To date, no diligent assessment has been made of all the factors involved. The goal of replacing fossil energy sources with hydropower is the right path to follow, says Ziegler, but if faulty planning means that rivers decline and people are robbed of their sources of food, this is not sustainable.