In the Mekong Basin, an ‘unnecessary’ dam poses an outsized threat

A dam being built in Laos near the border with Cambodia imperils downstream communities and the Mekong ecosystem as a whole, experts and affected community members say.

“I remember seeing a buffalo, its head tied to a floating barrel, drifting down the river,” says Pheng Sisuwath, gesturing to the Sekong River from his stilt house in Cambodia’s northeastern province of Stung Treng.

That was four years ago, when one of the auxiliary dams of the Xe Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower project collapsed on July 23, 2018, killing at least 49 people and displacing more than 7,000 people from 19 villages in Attapeu province, Laos. The wall of water unleashed by the collapsed saddle dam surged over the Cambodian border, destroying the homes, farms and livelihoods of another 15,000 people.

Now, in this village less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) downriver from the Laos-Cambodia border, news of a new “killer dam” nearing completion just outside Cambodia is prompting fresh fears of disaster.

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