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Integrated Approach for Sustainable Hydropower Development in the Mekong River Basin

In Environment and Natural Resources Research 7/1 2017-03

This paper analyses roles of integrated approach to establish a regional mechanism for sustainable hydropower development in the Mekong River Basin. Based on a critical review of the current trend of hydropower development, it argued that existing approach of uncoordinated Mekong mainstream hydropower development cannot ensure sustainable development; rather it causes negative impacts on food security, livelihoods, biodiversity, and ecosystem across the river basin, especially countries in Lower Mekong Basin (LMB), including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. As a result, it fails to bring positive net benefits at both national and regional level. Specifically, if all proposed mainstream dams are constructed and fully operated, Lao PDR is the only economically winner of billions USD after 20 years, while Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam are losers, and total net value will be minus 275 billion USD. Early recognition of the “nexus” interactions amongst hydropower development and cross-border food security, water security and livelihoods can minimise the risk of diplomatic conflicts and social unrest, and is only enabled when member states are willing to divert high-level government priorities from national interests to transboundary interests, as implementing the nexus approach throughout the river basin could contribute to reducing trade-offs between hydropower development and basin-wide socio-economy, and increase synergies through implementation of benefit-sharing mechanisms towards a win-win outcome. It recommends strengthening the Mekong River Commission via bolstered resources and coordinating authority, and encourages China to participate as a full member. It also argues that transboundary Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) of river projects should be conducted to reflect the synergic and trade-off nexus effect across the whole river basin.

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