Thailand may be a middle-income country, but enter one of the capital’s many new, opulent shopping complexes and you’ll think you’ve been transported to New York or Singapore. EmQuartier, Bangkok’s latest retail destination for the well-heeled houses such brands as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Tiffany and Cartier. It’s just one of a half-dozen competing luxury malls along a six-kilometer retail corridor in the city’s downtown.
Meanwhile, fishermen in Laos, Thailand’s neighbor, have no idea the electricity consumed by such development is in part what’s uprooting them from their homes and harming their livelihoods. These shopping complexes require an abundance of power, even more than what is consumed by populations of entire Thai provinces. For example, as the infographic below illustrates, high-end Siam Paragon consumes roughly 123 GWh of electricity a year (in 2011), compared to the quarter-million inhabitants in the mountainous Mae Hong Son Province, who over the same period used 65 GWh.
So, Thailand has turned to Laos and the hydroelectric potential along the Mekong to feed its growing electricity demand. Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, now under construction, are among the cornerstones of a dam-building bonanza by Laos to realize its aspiration to become the “Battery of Asia”. Thailand is one of Laos’ key partners and power purchasers. And the kingdom’s largest energy consumer is megacity Bangkok, with its sprawling concrete tentacles exacerbating the air-conditioning demand.
Many analysts worry the planned hydropower dams will devastate fish populations, harm agriculture and hurt culture and tourism – threatening the livelihoods of the nearly 65 million people who rely on the river for income and food.
Check out the infographic below to see how Bangkok’s power-hungry malls may be affecting the Mekong river and communities in Laos and elsewhere.
Story and infographic: The Mekong Eye