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‘Hungry river’ phenomenon in charge for extreme erosion of Mekong River banks in Laos — Radio Free Asia


Upstream dams and sand mining have brought on vital erosion alongside the Mekong River in western Laos, based on consultants, devastating riparian communities within the impoverished Southeast Asian nation with excessive waters and highly effective currents.

However residents of these communities say they imagine that different points are in charge.

Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia Program and the Power, Water, and Sustainability Program on the Stimson Heart in Washington, D.C., stated upstream actions had created a “hungry river” phenomenon answerable for the extreme erosion.

There’s a pure phenomenon known as a ‘hungry river’ the place a river which has been robbed of its sediments appears for brand new sediment to fill its course,” he stated. “Sediment is taken out of a river system by upstream dams and sand mining, so when the river goes ‘hungry’ it pulls new sediment into it from river banks by erosion processes.”

“Upstream dams in China have eliminated greater than half of the sediment from the Mekong mainstream and now that Laos has constructed about 100 dams, the consequences are being felt much more severely,” he stated.

If dams should be constructed, their designs ought to embody sediment flushing mechanisms to permit sediment to move by the construction, Eyler stated.

In the event that they don’t embody the flushing techniques, the state of affairs will “worsen and worse as a result of the river will get hungrier and hungrier as time passes,” he added.

Direct affect

The dams are a part of Laos’ formidable plan to turn into the “battery of Southeast Asia” and increase the landlocked nation’s financial system by promoting the generated electrical energy to neighboring nations like Thailand. However the tasks are controversial due to their environmental affect, displacement of villagers, and monetary and energy demand preparations.

Ian Baird, director of the Heart for Southeast Asia Research on the College of Wisconsin-Madison, stated there are various components answerable for the Mekong River erosion, together with sand dredging and deforestation, although he agreed that the principle trigger is the “hungry water” phenomenon.

“This phenomenon takes place as a result of all of the dams on the Mekong River acquire all of the sediment, [and] the water launched from the dams has much less sediment,” he stated. “When the water will get hungrier, it causes erosion alongside the Mekong River financial institution within the area under the dams.”

The erosion has a direct affect on riparian communities, inflicting the collapse of roads, and the washing away of land, forcing Laotians who stay close to the riverbank to relocate, Baird stated.

“The villagers who used to develop greens like tomatoes and chili peppers within the dry season on the riverbank can’t try this anymore,” he stated. “In the event that they nonetheless need to develop greens, they’ll must develop them on greater floor, to which they’ll must pump the water up. They’ll must pay for electrical energy [to do that].”

Rising greens on greater floor additionally implies that the crops is not going to profit from river sediment that acts as a pure fertilizer, so farmers should purchase fertilizer as nicely, Baird stated.

Land subsidence from erosion has cracked this road near the bank of the Mekong River in Paksan, Bolikhamxay province, central Laos, July 16, 2022. Credit: RFA
Land subsidence from erosion has cracked this highway close to the financial institution of the Mekong River in Paksan, Bolikhamxay province, central Laos, July 16, 2022. Credit score: RFA

Many erosion ‘hotspots’

Lao officers level to different doable explanations for the erosion that wipes out homes and land in riparian communities.

In Bokeo province within the northern a part of the nation, a whole village of 300 households was misplaced to the river over the previous 24 years as a result of highly effective waves brought on by ship motion, an official from the province’s Pure Assets and Setting Division informed RFA.

“The wrongdoer is the big and heavy ships weighing as much as 100 tons working by the river,” he stated. “The ships are the worst enemies of the riverbank. Their sturdy waves destroy the riverbank. Some waves are a couple of meter (3.3 toes) excessive.”

No less than 73 kilometers (45 miles) of the 179 kilometers (111 miles) of Mekong River financial institution in central Laos’ Borikhamxay province is severely eroded, stated Vixay Phoumy, director of the province’s Public Works and Transport Division on the company’s annual assembly on July 7. Solely 21 kilometers (13 miles) of the stretch is protected by retaining partitions.

“We’ve many hotspots in Thaphabath and Borikhan districts the place the erosion is worse,” an official from the province’s Pure Assets and Setting Division informed RFA. 

“From our inspection, we all know that the riverbank slides down essentially the most within the wet season,” he stated. “After all, some properties and farmland have been washed away too.”

Farther downstream, sturdy currents within the Mekong have eroded about 90 kilometers, or almost 50%, of riverbank, in Saravan province, an official of the province’s Pure Assets and Setting Division informed RFA.

A stretch of eroded riverbank along the Mekong River in Pakkading district, Bolikhamxay province, central Laos, July 2022. Credit: RFA
A stretch of eroded riverbank alongside the Mekong River in Pakkading district, Bolikhamxay province, central Laos, July 2022. Credit score: RFA

‘Our frequent downside’

The extreme erosion just isn’t confined to the Laos aspect of the Mekong River and impacts banks on the Thai aspect as nicely, stated Omboon Thipsuna, secretary-general of the Mekong Neighborhood Organizations Community Affiliation, 7 Provinces, Northeastern Area (NCPO) in Thailand. 

“The principle trigger is the upstream dams releasing and holding water,” she informed RFA. “It’s apparent that the sediment has disappeared.”

“The water goes up and down,” she stated. “They [riparian residents] see it tumbling down each day.”

Thipsuna known as for bilateral talks between Laos and Thailand to discover a answer to the erosion difficulty.

“It’s our frequent downside,” she stated.

The Sanakham Dam, a proposed hydropower venture on the Mekong mainstream between Xayaburi and Vientiane provinces in Laos will make the erosion worse, she stated, including that water ranges at the moment can go as much as 4 meters (13 meters) excessive each day.

The cash-strapped Lao authorities can solely afford to construct erosion-prevention limitations in a couple of places, leaving the residents of many different areas to cope with the difficulty on their very own.

“The Mekong River financial institution erosion has been occurring for years, inflicting plenty of considerations to our riparian residents,” stated a villager within the city of Paksan, capital of Borikhamxay province. “The erosion has brought on plenty of injury yearly. The authorities haven’t stated something [because] they don’t care about this.”

A resident of the Sangthong district of Vientiane famous extreme erosion there as nicely, however stated restricted authorities funding might stop the erection of an erosion wall.

“The authorities carried out a survey lately and deliberate to construct a revetment,” he stated. “The issue is that the federal government finances for constructing revetment is restricted. The plan is perhaps delayed additional.”

A bank of the Mekong River in the Vientiane area of Laos has eroded, July 2022. Credit: RFA
A financial institution of the Mekong River within the Vientiane space of Laos has eroded, July 2022. Credit score: RFA

Additional research wanted

An official with the Lao Ministry of Pure Assets and Setting informed RFA that the federal government is nicely conscious of the erosion downside and its affect on land and pure assets. 

“The reason for the erosion is sand dredging,” stated the official. “As for the fluctuation of water, it wants extra research to show whether or not the fluctuation is brought on by dams and/or local weather change.”

In the meantime, the Thai authorities seems to be making extra headway in addressing the difficulty. It put aside 4 billion baht (U.S. $110 million) to construct limitations in 181 hotspots in eight riparian provinces alongside the Mekong River between 2021 and 2024.

Translated by Max Avary for RFA Lao. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.



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