The Mekong region is experiencing rapid economic growth and urbanization. These changes are bringing about a dramatic spike in energy demand, which is projected to increase by more than 80 percent by 2035. In order to try to meet these demands, hydropower schemes are being built on the Mekong River and its tributaries.
While many regional governments see hydropower as a green energy source that will assist in the economic development of the region, it is important to consider the effects that hydropower development will have on other water users.
Research for hydropower sustainability
Local populations and regional economies depend on resources provided by rivers to irrigate their crops, to fish and for services provided by specific ecological conditions. Consideration of these multiple uses is crucial if the benefits from the Mekong and its tributaries are to be shared across multiple sectors, including but not limited to hydropower and agriculture.
The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) have engaged with many private and public sector partners in order to further research the effects of hydropower in the region and test possible ways of making this development more sustainable while also trying to ensure that benefits are shared equally.
Implementation of compensation policies is lacking
In Lao PDR, Village Focus International (VFI) in collaboration with WLE and CPWF partnered with major government agencies to carry out action research that analyzed the gap between compensation policies for affected communities and how they are implemented in reality. Lao PDR has passed international standard class laws and regulations related to hydropower that are meant to act as social and environmental safeguards. The reality on the ground rarely lives up to these regulations.
VFI's gap analysis found that hydropower-affected communities and local government officials have little understanding of the rules and regulations guiding resettlement. There is also minimal coordination and communication between central and local government bodies.
Improved communication helps communities
In addition, VFI found that successful communication has to be culturally and linguistically relevant, but many of the foreign hydropower companies operating in the country do not communicate in Lao or other local languages. Thus, a major output of their work was a set of communication tools - posters, pamphlets and facilitator guidelines - in English and Lao that can empower affected communities and local governing bodies to address issues of compensation, resettlement, livelihoods and grievances with policy makers, investors and hydropower developers.
"By working directly with the government bodies such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Mines that determine policy in Lao PDR, and by connecting them with local impact groups and communities, VFI was able to make a concrete difference in the way these disparate sectors communicate, engage and address hydropower development", said Kim Geheb, former CPWF basin leader and current WLE focal region coordinator.
By establishing key partnerships and dialogues, VFI improved the understanding of hydropower governance among specific impacted communities and relevant government agencies.Through this engagement and their research, they were also able to provide examples of how hydropower companies and government ministries can be engaged to consider livelihoods and ecosystems in order to ensure that the benefits of hydropower and water resources can be shared.
WLE expects to continue to work with VFI, not only to make these communication tools available to communities in Lao PDR, but also to expand the work to other sites where dialogue on these issues may contribute to sustainable and resilient hydropower development.
For more information:
The communication tools, as well as an overview of VFI's work in Lao PDR, are available on the WLE Greater Mekong website.