Mekong Dam Projects ‘Could Destroy Livelihoods, Ecology’ | The Nation

Pratch Rujivanarom
Monday, June 6, 2016
A boat on the Mekong River.
A boat on the Mekong River.
The Nation


This article originally appeared in The Nation.

Environmental groups warn areas might be totally devastated in next 10 years.

THE ECOLOGY of the Mekong River could be destroyed within 10 years if dam projects along the river are allowed to continue, Thai and Cambodian non-government organisations have warned. 

They have also warned that it will be very difficult for people to claim compensation for projects' negative impacts on the environment and their livelihoods because it will be not difficult if not impossible to clearly link the effects to a particular dam.

The NGOs urged relevant governments to better understand the situation and take more interest in trans-border impacts from development projects along the Mekong River in order to prevent adverse consequences, which could harm the lives of millions people who depend on the river.

There are two projects underway - the Xayaburi dam and the Don Sahong dam, located on the lower reaches of the Mekong River in |Laos. Amid protests from people who reside along the riverbank, Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for International Rivers, urged the governments of the Mekong River region to concentrate more on the real costs of development projects for the river and |people.

"I don't see a way out from the ecological and social destruction of the Mekong River, if the decision-makers still do not care about the impacts of the huge projects on the river," Pianporn stated.

She said the decision-makers considered only the benefit they could get from the projects on Mekong River without considering the impact on the river's ecology and people's livelihoods.

She said the construction of two more dams in Laos, Pak Bang and Sanakham, would begin soon. "The dam construction is not really being regulated," she said. 

"If this trend still continues, I am sure that we will see the total collapse of the Mekong River within 10 years with our own eyes."

Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum on Cambodia, pointed out that the weakness of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) mechanism has resulted in uncontrolled dam building on the main tributary of the Mekong River.

"It is all about power negotiations and politics in the MRC, so they are too weak to regulate this issue properly. If they were strong, the dams like Don Sahong Dam would not happen," Vannara said. 

He said if countries represented in the MRC want to build a dam on the main tributary of the Mekong River, they are supposed to proceed with proper procedures of notification and prior consultation, but the Don Sahong dam was started without consultation with the MRC.

"The countries in the Mekong River region have to start discussions on the impacts of these dams," he said. "The reasons dam-builders use to build dams in their countries should not be used anymore, because we are on the same river and the river belongs to everyone.

"We are now trying to make the [Cambodian] government see that clean energy like solar power, biomass and wind power can be better alternatives to building hydroelectricity dams and we are trying to empower local people so they can raise their voices against the destructive projects."

Pianporn added that it would be tough for affected people to get compensated.

"The dams are owned by private companies, not the country, so it is very realistic that the government will not be responsible for the impacts caused by dams and the price of the devastating impact on the ecology and people's livelihoods will be the responsibility for the people to pay," she said.