Phnom Penh / Upstream Damming at Mekong River

Upstream damming is one of the major causes of serious flooding in Phnom Penh. Developing countries in Southeast Asia have been making profits by investing in hydroelectric power, with enormous dams built along Mekong River. Upstream regions, including Tibet, Yunnan Province of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, are extensively harvesting the potential energy stored in the River. The following diagram is probably the best depiction of the situation. (Fig.1)

Mekong Map A3-page-001Figure 1 – Dams in the Mekong Basin: Commissioned, Under Construction and Planned Dams in May 2013 (Source :CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food)

With more human intervention in the water systems, it is believed that flooding in low-lying regions will become more disorderly and unmanageable as the natural flood cycles are disrupted severely. Another problem is whether these dams will stop the reversal of water from Phnom Penh to Tonle Sap Lake during wet seasons. A typical flood surge (Fig.2) occurs every year which helps return water from the mainstream of Mekong to Tonle Sap Lake via Tonle Sap River. If this cycle comes to a halt, flooding in Phnom Penh will only get more serious when the excess water has nowhere to go. (Fig.3)

Figure 2 – Typical Tonle Sap Flood Surge (Source: Shelby Doyle)

Figure 3 – Tonle Sap Flood Surge disrupted in 2011 (Source: Shelby Doyle)

The development of HEP and damming is a highly controversial issue. Governments, of course, treat this as a quick way to introduce capital to the local economy. Local fisheries and ecology has become the victims, on the contrary. Apart from that, upstream countries are also being accused of sacrificing the livelihoods of people in the downstream areas but selfishly earning their own profits.


Pearce, F. (2009). The Damming of the Mekong: Major Blow to an Epic River. Yale Environment 360. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

De Launey, G. (2011, April 20). The stalled battle for the future of the Mekong River. BBC News. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

Mekong Basin Development Challenge: Dams, biodiversity and livelihoods. (2013). Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

Doyle, S. (December 2012). Phnom Penh – City of Water. SAHMAKUM TEANG TNAUT. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

2 Comments on “Phnom Penh / Upstream Damming at Mekong River

  1. It is pity that again its the conflict between the economic growth versus the living of the people as well as the nature. Unfortunately its most of the time won by the need of economic growth and sacrificing the other two. Negotiation between the parties has to be done and voices of different stakeholders has to be heard. Otherwise the city will be only the city for the powers but hell for the others.  And also would like to know more about the stance and voice of different parties to reveal the conflicts in-between. 

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