Powering the uplands: Controversies of developing hydropower in upstream Central and Mainland Southeast Asia

Stefanos Xenarios, Murodbek Laldjebaev, Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, Joost Buurman, Eduardo Araral

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The progressive improvement of developing and transition economies in Mainland Southeast Asia (MSEA) and Central Asia (CA) and the continuing economic growth of China have amplified the need for developing further energy resources in these regions. Hydropower is one of the most promising renewable sources with immense potential to increase the installed energy capacity in Southeast and Central Asia. Clean energy, minimal losses during the conversion process and the enormous supply of this energy source suggest hydropower as the new bonanza for the two regions. The upstream countries in the Aral Sea Basin of CA - Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - and the upstream countries in the Mekong Basin of MSEA - Laos, Cambodia and Yunnan Province of the People’s Republic of China - are nowadays acknowledged as storage batteries for those regions and beyond. China is developing the hydropower potential of its territorial share of the Upper Mekong Basin and, in exchange, is sharing the energy produced by other countries in the Basin. It is also involved in hydropower projects in both regions. However, there are major concerns about increasing hydropower capacity at the expense of environmental goods and services that support the economies and livelihoods of large populations in both regions. There is also concern about conflicts between the energy sector and other sectors, especially agriculture and fisheries. Moreover, there is a major concern over the skewed distribution of the economic benefits emerging from hydropower energy in favour of China, as the most powerful country straddling Mainland Southeast Asia and Central Asia, as well as in favour of other more powerful or more advantageously located countries in these regions. This study assesses the potential and identifies the challenges of hydropower development in the Mekong Basin of Mainland Southeast Asia and the Aral Sea Basin in Central Asia. This is a first attempt to investigate the Mekong and the Aral Sea Basins jointly with respect to hydropower development.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Sustainable Politics and Economics of Natural Resources
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9781789908770
ISBN (Print)9781789908763
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • General Business,Management and Accounting
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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