Viewpoints on the construction of dams in the Mekong Delta Region

Subject: 🌷 Environment
Type: Synthesis Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1699
Topics: Water Pollution, Environmental Issues, Innovation
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Introduction/background

The hydropower industry based on the Mekong River is a truly vast and remarkable industry that has been flourishing since the 1960s, with the Mekong River being capable of generating 30,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity for the South East Asian region covering six countries (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015). The Mekong basin is a multibillion industry economy, carrying not only the vast agricultural economy comprising of food farming, fishing, herbs and vegetable economies, but also a lucrative hydroelectric power market (Smith, 2011). The Mekong basin economy already supports the livelihoods of 70 million people, outside of the hydroelectric power industry revenues that are generated from the basin (MRC, 2015). The Mekong River subsistence economy comprises of the extensive agricultural wetlands and floodplains, while also being home to the largest world inland fisheries producing 2.6 million tons of fish annually and over 500 000 tones of other aquatic animals every year, worth an estimated $4–7 million (MRC, 2015).

While the Mekong River and its tributaries already support hundreds of dams, the regional governments are contemplating building an additional 88 dams, with 11 larger dams being planned for construction along the mainstream Mekong River flow, while 120 dams will be hosted by its tributaries, by 2030 (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015). The Mekong Delta region is a robust and flouring economy in the South East Asian region, with the delta not only being responsible for the supply an estimated 96% of the renewable energy consumed in the region, but also attracting heavy direct foreign investment (FDI) from European and other Western-based companies (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015). The economic potential of the Mekong Delta region is based on its high rising GDP growth support for the countries in the region, emanating from revenues generated from electricity export, which has seen the countries in the region, for example Laos, benefit significantly from the hydropower GDP contribution sustaining economic growth at 7% annually (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015).  Nevertheless, the continued construction of dams in the Mekong Delta region could have devastating impacts on the aquatic life and fragile ecology that is home to the world’s rare species of the large Mekong-giant catfish and freshwater dolphins (Smith, 2011). The construction of the dams could also put the livelihoods of 70 million people living and relying on the Mekong basin for their livelihoods such as fishermen, small scale farmers, local food vendors, small businessmen in the local vegetable market and other Mekong River water-based tradesmen into a greater risk (Smith, 2011).

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Expression of a likely viewpoint of someone employed within the industry

In my view, the construction of dams in the Mekong Delta region therefore form part of an important economic development that will generate more GDP growth and create more employment opportunities, while also creating numerous social and environmental benefits. The Mekong Delta region is an important resource not only supporting the hydropower industry in the South East Asian region, but also supporting the GDP growth of the economies of the countries this region substantially, while also providing employment to millions people (Johnston & Kummu, 2012). The hydroelectric power demand in the South East Asian region, especially in China and Thailand is growing, thus providing an opportunity for other countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, which have vast but unutilized hydropower resources based on the Mekong River and its tributaries to generate and export the hydroelectricity to these countries (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015). Exporting the hydroelectric power generated by the three countries with underutilized and vast hydropower resources based on the Mekong River and its tributaries will “reap billions of dollars by exporting the megawatts to China and Thailand” (Smith, 2011). Further, it is my opinion that the construction of the dams to tap the underutilized hydropower resources in the Mekong River will in the process of generating the billions of dollars in economic GDP growth for these countries also create employment opportunities for thousands of people. I also firmly believe that the construction of the planned dams in the Mekong River region will open up the opportunity for the countries in the region to take advantage of the existing the foreign direct investment (FDI) opportunities from a host of foreign companies and business entities (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015).  The FDI will work towards boosting the economies of the region. Therefore, I support the construction of the planned dams in the Mekong Delta region, because they will only help to benefit the people and economies in the region.

Expression of a likely viewpoint, from a local fisherman or environmental lobbyist

As a fisherman, I am completely opposed to the construction of the hydropower dams in the Mekong delta region. The situation of the river and its ecosystem is already at risk by now, and the construction of more dams will put not only the ecosystem and the ecological life in the Mekong River at risk, but will also affect our lives adversely. The Mekong River has been supporting us by providing us with a means of livelihood over the years, where fishing is one of our core economic activities in the region. Fishing in the Mekong river is responsible for producing 2.6 million tons of fish annually and over 500 000 tones of other aquatic animals every year, worth an estimated $4–7 million (MRC, 2015). Therefore, if the planned dams continue to be constructed, our fishing activities will be affected negatively, because the entire river ecosystem and the ecological life will be damaged significantly. The construction of the dams will have a negative impact on fishing, because they will continue to alter the Mekong River’s natural flow and sediments regime, which will in turn cause a degradation of the biodiversity and productivity of the river’s ecosystems (Wild & Loucks, 2015).

The construction of the dams in the Mekong delta region will have the impact of altering the free movement of the aquatic life and fish species, while the formation of the sedimentations in the dam reservoirs will mean that such nutritionally and soil-fertile sediments will no longer be available to “support the basin’s geomorphology and habitats” (Wild & Loucks, 2015). The outcome is that the rare fish species of the Mekong River such as the larger cut fish and the fresh water dolphins that are already endangered by now will face the danger of complete extinction (Smith, 2011). Therefore, it is my position that the construction of the planned dam in the Mekong Delta region should be stopped, because if the construction continues, the quantity, variety and rate of reproduction of the different fish species will be impacted drastically and we the fishermen will lose our source of livelihood.

Expression of a likely viewpoint from a Chinese/Thai banker/politician/business person

As a Chinese banker, I am really excited about the ongoing plans for the construction of more dams in the Mekong delta region. The plan foe the continued construction of the hydropower dams in the Mekong basin provides a very lucrative investment opportunity for us. The demand for energy and electric power is high in both China and Thailand, which means that all the hydroelectric power that will be generated from the newly constructed dams will have a ready market (Johnston & Kummu, 2012). In the recent past, a number of investors comprising of multinational companies, national banks and investment development banks and partners have become a major part of the continued construction of the hydropower dams in the Mekong delta (Ziva, et al., 2012). The private investors are forming “hybrid private-public partnerships with host governments to build hydroelectric dams in the Lower Mekong Basin with the intent to purchase the bulk of that electricity” (opendevelopmentmekong.net, 2015). In this case, the planned construction of more hydropower dams in the Mekong delta provides us the bankers with an opportunity to invest in these projects through funding the products under long-term contract loans that will in the end produce lucrative and high interests for the financiers.

Most importantly, I am excited about the plan for the continued construction of the hydropower dams in the Mekong basin, because it will not only provide us with investment opportunities, but also make as part of the global environmental change that is so desirable at this age. The international community concern over the carbon emissions and increased greenhouse gas pollution arising from the continued use of the fossil fuels has made hydroelectric power both an attractive and sustainably renewable alternative source of energy for many global industries (Ziva, et al., 2012). Therefore, through our investment in the newly planned hydropower dam construction in the Mekong region, we will become part of the global effort towards environmental protection and sustainability, by investing in the production of more renewable hydroelectric energy.

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Conclusion

The Mekong Delta region forms one of the most vast and highly productive ecological systems of the world, with the delta forming the world’s largest inland fisheries. The delta also constitutes a unique ecological system and habitat that hosts some of the world’s rare aquatic species that include the fresh-water dolphins and the large cut fishes. The Mekong Delta region is also home to a population of 70 million people that are fully reliant on the Mekong River and its tributaries as a source of their livelihoods. Through the agricultural economy, fishing, hydroelectric power generation and a host of other economically gainful activities, the Mekong Delta region forms a stable and robust economy that is helping support the GDP growth of the six countries in the South East Asian region where the Mekong River traverses. Nevertheless the issue of continuing and additionally planned construction of hydropower dams in the Mekong basin has become an issue of concern for the affected population, the environmentalists and lobbyists who perceive the plan as an eminent danger to the future livelihoods of the populations in the region, as well as a risk to the complete destruction of the habitats, ecosystems and the aquatic life in the Mekong Delta region. On the other hand, regional governments and private investors perceive the Mekong delta region as a prime and viable investment and resource area, capable of generating vast economic gains. The tussle between the environmentalists and the affected populations on the one hand and the governments and private investors on the other hand creates a controversy that needs to be addressed.

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  1. Johnston, R. & Kummu, M. (2012). Water resource models in the Mekong Basin: a review. Water Resource Management 26, 429–455.
  2. Mekong River Commission (MRC). (December 2015). Development of Guidelines for Hydropower Environmental Impact Mitigation and Risk Management in the Lower Mekong Mainstream and Tributaries. Mekong River Commission.
  3. Opendevelopmentmekong.net. (6 February 2015). Hydropower dams. Retrieved from: https://opendevelopmentmekong.net/topics/hydropower/
  4. Smith, J. (October 25, 2011). Two Rivers: The Chance to Export Power Divides Southeast Asia. National Geographic News. Retrieved from: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/10/111026-mekong-irrawaddy-hydropower-dams/
  5. Wild, T.B.  & Loucks, D.P. (2015). Mitigating Dam Conflicts in the Mekong River Basin. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University
  6. Ziva, G. et al. (2012). Trading-off fish biodiversity, food security, and hydropower in the Mekong River Basin. PNAS 109(15), 5609–5614.
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