Mekong to become the first privately run river?

“Private firms are buying the rights to Mekong’s huge and cheap energy resources and Mekong can become the worlds first privately run river.” This rather challenging statement comes from senior Analyst at Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) Kurt Mørck Jensen. He has the last two years been in charge of The Water Governance and Water Development Study at the institute financed by the Danish development cooperation (Danida).

The disputes about the Xayaburi dam and the other eight dams Laos plans to build has change the political alliances of Southeast Asia, he claims. The conflict relates to regional distribution policy, the right to development and national sovereignty.

“Laos wants to cash in, by selling electricity to their energy-hungry neighbours. Cambodia is worried that the dam will spoil their fishery and Vietnam is severely
concerned the dams will destroy the Mekong river delta and threaten the livelihood of millions of people. The river delta is in fact the foundation, not just for Vietnam, but for the entire region’s food security,” he says.

Even Thailand tries to keep a low profile in the conflict, it, according to Kurt Mørck Jensen, got its hand in the Laotian honey jar as an entrepreneur, investor and purchaser of electricity from the Xayaburi. The Chinese involvement, Chinese firms are planned to build some of the dams, has made it possible for Laos to challenge its bigger brother Vietnam, though the two countries otherwise have been close allies since the Vietnam War.

“A lot of money is available, and with few demands on social and environmental
sustainability,” Kurt Mørck Jensen says.

The conflict of interest challenges The Mekong River Commission (MRC) which is the inter-governmental agency that works directly with the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam on joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River.

China, which is not a member of MRC, but a dialogue partner, has already built four dams, one is under construction and three more planned.

MRC receives grants from several Western donors including Denmark. It was a study sponsored by the Mekong River Commission, which made Vietnam change position on the dams.

“To solve the deadlocked position between the countries knowledge-based
compromise solutions are needed,” Kurt Mørck Jensen says, “But they are needed quickly. Southeast Asia’s need for energy is big and development is rapid.”

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