Assessing Cumulative Impacts of Dams on Distant Wetland Dynamics and Rural Communities in the Lower Mekong River Basin

Governments in Southeast Asia face the formidable challenge of meeting rising economic aspirations of their growing populations in the context of climate change in a region whose landscapes are still mainly agricultural. The best solutions will be found in win-win scenarios such as those in which dams built to meet electricity demand are operated to also: support agricultural intensification, minimize negative environmental impacts, and mitigate the effects of extreme weather events. Identifying such scenarios requires a robust understanding of past land change trajectories, accounting for a range of physical and socioeconomic causative and enabling factors, within a framework that can reliably project the potential consequences of future policy choices. The proposed project brings together state-of-the-art remote sensing methods and techniques with appropriate theoretical and analytical approaches from climatological, hydrological and land use sciences to inform policies in the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMRB). It focuses specifically on the ability of the region’s network of existing and planned hydroelectric dams to simultaneously supply electricity and support the expansion of irrigated agriculture, while minimizing disruption of hydroperiods crucial to the functioning of the region’s sensitive wetlands and mitigating extreme weather events.