Southeast Asia’s sustainable development path under threat

Published onAugust 29, 2018

A dam in south-eastern Laos collapsed on July 23rd, flooding six villages and leaving more than 6,000 people homeless. Downstream in neighboring Cambodia, thousands of people were affected; so far, at least 36 people have died in the catastrophe…in Southeast Asia, many large-scale power plants are being planned or constructed, including hydro and coal power plants. While a growing electricity demand is forecast for the entire region, many energy experts are challenging this assumption. Evidence from within the region and elsewhere points to the high risk of stranded assets and of over-supply of electricity in some markets. In addition, large hydro projects regularly underestimate environmental costs and often have long construction times with systematic cost overruns. Large dams are highly vulnerable to climate change, as extremes in rainfall patterns make river flows increasingly unpredictable. Too much rain means flooding and the increased risk of dam failures. And more frequent droughts compromise the performance of hydro dams, rendering them economically nonviable. The World Bank has noted that “heavy reliance on hydropower creates significant vulnerability to climate change” for many countries, which “may require a policy decision to diversify away from hydropower.”