The Mekong River is the lifeblood of some 60 million people. It provides the conditions necessary for rice cultivation and a rich supply of freshwater fish. But Laos has identified its potential as a provider of energy. The country wants to become the "powerhouse" of Southeast Asia and is planning to build six hydropower plants on the river.
But environmentalists and neighboring countries object to the plans, fearing the ecological consequences of the project, as well as the effect on the people living by the river. The Mekong River is home to some 700 species of fish, whose downriver passage will be disrupted by the construction of the dams. Critics say both the fishing and the tourist industries will suffer as a result of the project.