ADB “Water For The Poor” Week Reveals Hypocrisy of Institution

International Rivers Network
Friday, January 30, 2004

Plans for Mekong Power Grid Would Undermine People’s Rights to Water

As the Asian Development Bank’s “Water Week 2004” winds to a close in Manila, communities are at risk of losing their livelihoods and natural resources to the ADB-supported Mekong power grid. The ADB is leading the development of a Mekong region power grid fueled primarily by hydropower. Twelve hydropower projects are proposed to connect to the grid, including the controversial Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos, two dams on the Upper Mekong in China and Tasang Dam in Burma. The Bank claims that the Mekong power grid will provide cheap, reliable and environmentally sustainable power for Thailand and Vietnam. However, critics are concerned that the hydro projects will forcibly displace tens of thousands, decimate fisheries and destroy the cultures and rights of ethnic minorities.

“Hydropower projects built for the grid would disrupt the fragile Mekong River ecosystem on which millions depend for their livelihoods and survival. This would undermine the basic rights to water of the people who can least afford it,” says Susanne Wong, International River Network's Southeast Asia Campaigner.

A report released today by International Rivers Network shows that the ADB has violated its safeguard policies on energy, water and indigenous peoples in the development of the power grid. For example, civil society has been excluded from the planning process in spite of provisions in the Bank’s water policy. There has been no assessment of the cumulative impacts of the proposed hydropower projects, in violation of the Bank’s energy policy. The economic benefits are marginal at best.

Despite these policy violations, the ADB is pressing forward with the Mekong power grid. Last year, the ADB approved a technical assistance grant to develop a pivotal power trade operating agreement. In late 2003, the ADB approved technical assistance grants for the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project and for power interconnection between Thailand and Vietnam.

“If the ADB truly cares about meeting people’s needs for water, the ADB should suspend the Mekong power grid,” says Wong. “Instead, the Bank should ensure that a comprehensive assessment of energy options for the region is carried out following the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.”

The report, entitled “Sizing Up the Grid: How the Mekong Power Grid Compares Against the Policies of the Asian Development Bank,” is available for download here.