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Southeast Asia, explained

Fighting outside pressure, Laos proceeds with super dam

Transforming the Mekong River into a hydro-power express
Xayaburi laos dam 2012 11 06Enlarge
Thai villagers affected by the construction of the Xayaburi dam in Laos hold models of fish in front of the administrative court in Bangkok on August 7, 2012. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Laos -- remote, landlocked and impoverished -- has little to offer in the way of international trade. But one commodity it can sell is its rivers or, rather, the power that can be tapped from its rushing river currents.

As commodities go, it's a hot one: neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and southern China are energy hungry and eager to ensure that their economies have the juice to keep humming. The Mekong River, which threads mainland Southeast Asia, is being aggressively dammed up to supply that energy. If all planned dams come to be, the river will eventually be studded with nearly 20 hydro-power dams.

Enter the Xayaburi Dam, a $3.8 billion project loathed by environmentalists. Laos, defying complaints from the U.S., regional authorities and environmental watchdogs, has just announced it will go forward with the dam's construction, the BBC reports.

As Radio Free Asia reports, a full 95 percent of the dam's energy will be zapped to Thailand. International Rivers, an NGO opposed to the dam, insists that the project will "destroy the river’s complex ecosystems," threaten fish species, displace villagers and perhaps permanently disrupt the Mekong's natural order.

The U.S. State Department has also chided Laos for this decision and warned that the dam's "extent and severity of impacts.. are still unknown."

This is a loss for environmentalists and a sign that, perhaps, even coordinated campaigns and lobbying won't be enough to thwart the other pending dams in Laos.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/laos-xayaburi-dam

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