Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dams may damage the Mekong River, groups say

National Geographic, via AP: Six proposed dams on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia could displace up to 75,000 villagers and harm hundreds of species like the endangered giant catfish and Irrawaddy dolphin, conservationists warned Tuesday. Thirteen-year-old plans to build four dams in Laos and one each in Thailand and Cambodia have been revived as part of efforts—mostly by China, Thailand, and Vietnam—to find new energy sources for their growing economies, said Premrudee Daoroung, director of the Bangkok-based environmental group Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance.

"The natural flow of the river will all be completely changed," Premrudee said. "Of course, it will affect all the vegetation and fish on the river," she said. "Many species of fish will be lost because the river will become shallower, and some parts may have no water at all during the dry season." The river— which runs through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam—already faces threats from pollution, climate change, and dams in China that have caused water levels to drop sharply on the upper Mekong.

Conservationists urged the Mekong River Commission—which is made up of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and tasked with managing navigation and development along the river—to take a public stance on the dam projects at its annual meeting starting Thursday in Cambodia. They also called on the commission to release any studies or surveys on the six dams' effects on the river. "Despite the serious ecological and economic implications of damming the lower Mekong, the Mekong River Commission remained notably silent," a coalition of 175 environmental and civic groups charged in a letter sent to the commission Monday. "We find this an extraordinary abdication of responsibility."

Conservationists fear that without some outside pressure, the dams—mostly funded by Chinese companies—will fail to include affected communities in their planning. There is also concern that relocated villages will not be adequately compensated and that environmental and social safeguards won't be included in the project designs. No one from the commission could immediately be reached for comment on the environmentalists' statements.

No comments: