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Are hydropower and irrigation development complements or substitutes? The example of the Nam Ngum River in the Mekong Basin


  • G. Lacombe
  • S. Douangsavanh
  • J. Baker
  • C.T. Hoanh
  • R. Bartlett
  • M. Jeuland
  • C. Phongpachith


Hydropower and irrigation developments to address rising demand for food and energy are modifying the water balance of the Mekong Basin. Infrastructure investment decisions are also frequently made from a sub-catchment perspective. This paper compares river flows with irrigation development stages in the Nam Ngum sub-basin where the potential for irrigation and hydropower expansion is largely untapped. It shows that full hydropower development in this basin allows irrigation water use to triple, even as it reduces competition with environmental flow requirements. The implications for the wider Mekong are, however, unclear, particularly given uncertainty over parallel transformations elsewhere in the basin.

Suggested Citation

  • G. Lacombe & S. Douangsavanh & J. Baker & C.T. Hoanh & R. Bartlett & M. Jeuland & C. Phongpachith, 2014. "Are hydropower and irrigation development complements or substitutes? The example of the Nam Ngum River in the Mekong Basin," Water International, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(5), pages 649-670, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rwinxx:v:39:y:2014:i:5:p:649-670
    DOI: 10.1080/02508060.2014.956205

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hoanh, Chu Thai & Jirayoot, K. & Lacombe, Guillaume & Srinetr, V., 2010. "Impacts of climate change and development on Mekong flow regimes. First assessment - 2009," IWMI Research Reports H043262, International Water Management Institute.
    2. Bartlett, R., 2012. "Analyzing economic tradeoffs of water use in the Nam Ngum River Basin, Lao PDR," IWMI Working Papers H045852, International Water Management Institute.
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    Cited by:

    1. England, Matthew I., 2019. "Contested waterscapes: Irrigation and hydropower in the Great Ruaha River Basin, Tanzania," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 213(C), pages 1084-1095.
    2. Ruby W. Grantham & Murray A. Rudd, 2017. "Household susceptibility to hydrological change in the Lower Mekong Basin," Natural Resources Forum, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 41(1), pages 3-17, February.
    3. Viossanges, Mathieu & Pavelic, Paul & Rebelo, Lisa-Maria & Lacombe, Guillaume & Sotoukee, Touleelor, 2018. "Regional mapping of groundwater resources in data-scarce regions: the case of Laos," Papers published in Journals (Open Access), International Water Management Institute, pages 5(1):1-24..
    4. Zhang, Xiao & Li, Hong-Yi & Deng, Zhiqun Daniel & Ringler, Claudia & Gao, Yang & Hejazi, Mohamad I. & Leung, L. Ruby, 2018. "Impacts of climate change, policy and Water-Energy-Food nexus on hydropower development," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 116(PA), pages 827-834.

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