World Joins Mekong Citizens in Battle to Stop Dam Building

Thuy Ha, Viet Nam News Service and Asia News Network
Friday, June 19, 2009

[VNS and ANN] VIETNAM - In a bold outpouring of public concern for Southeast Asia's Mekong River, people from the six-country Mekong region and around the world have urged governments to abandon plans for hydropower development along the river's mainstream.

In the face of strong government backing for dam building on the river, which feeds 60 million people, over 11,000 citizens in the region have signed the "Save the Mekong" petition addressed to the Prime Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam urging them to keep the river flowing freely and to pursue less damaging electricity options.

The petition was signed by fishers and farmers along the river's mainstream and tributaries, as well as by monks, students, city folk and even some of the region's celebrities. Another 5,000 people around the world signed postcards and an online petition with personal notes.

The petition written in seven languages was hand-delivered to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Wednesday in Bangkok, and sent to other government leaders within the region.

"People are now more aware of the threat to the Mekong and the movement calling to protect the river and the life of the people living along the Mekong has spread out thanks to the signature collection," said Premrudee Daoroung of the Bangkok-based, non-profit Foundation for Ecological Recovery at a press conference for the petition launch.

With the postcards and signature collection, the regional governments are expected to make decisions to save the life and the environment of their own countries, said Mekong Programme Co-ordinator Carl Middleton.

The Mekong is host to the world's largest inland fishery and its second behind the Amazon River in diversity of aquatic animals. The river drains an area of 795, From the Tibetan Plateau it runs through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

The building of dams is one of the most controversial issues to raised wide-spread concern among riverbank communities and the wider public over the severe consequences these dams will have.


Since 2006, 11 big hydropower dams have been proposed for the river's mainstream in which seven dam sites are in Laos, two in Cambodia and two on the Thai-Lao border. This has been criticised on grounds of cost as well as damage to the environment and to the livelihoods of affected villagers.

Viet Nam is expected to suffer the most of the building it is at the lowest part of the river with 17 million Vietnamese people - almost one- third of the Mekong River citizens - living along the river.

"Broken ecosystem, soil erosion, bad impact of changed water flow on the transport system and dry fields are among the key concerns of Vietnamese farmers and citizens living along the river," Ngo Xuan Quang, of Aquatic Ecology and Biodiversity, said.

"An Giang and Dong Thap are the two Mekong Delta provinces having most severe soil erosion while Tien Giang is suffering most in dry fields," Quang said.

Poverty stricken Cambodia is one nation that is completely dependent on the river for food and the vast majority of its fledgling economy. The annual floods provide much needed water for crops for the otherwise dry dusty land, and to refresh the Tonle Sap, yet its major cities are all vulnerable to flooding.

Since the building of the first Chinese dam, many species have become endangered, including the Mekong dolphin and manatee; water levels have dropped and ferries get stuck, fish caught are small and the catch is less than half of that before the dam was built.

Mekong fisheries provide a critical source of food and income for millions of people along the river. Recent official estimates place the annual value of the river's wild capture fisheries at up to US$3 billion. Mainstream dams will block the massive fish migrations that accounts for up to 70 per cent of the river's commercial fish catch and that ensures regional food security. Experience around the world demonstrates there is no way to mitigate the fisheries impacts of such large dams.

China's dam construction on the upper Mekong mainstream (Lancang) has already caused serious environmental problems in the form of declining fish stocks, riverbank erosion and hazardous water level fluctuations in downstream Myanmar, northern Thailand and northern Laos.

Similarly severe cross-border impacts could create cross-border disputes.

Other environmental concerns arise from increased water flow in some parts as China clears rocks and sandbars, blasts gorges and slows water as it dams and floods other sections and causes the relocation of indig-enous peoples.

Cambodia, by far the most exposed, depending on a fine balance of water flow, fears scenarios of mass famine and devastating floods the likes of which destroyed the Angkor kingdom 700 years ago.


Laos's biggest cities all hug the Mekong as does Viet Nam's largest city and financial hub, HCM City, which would be vulnerable mostly to low flow and pollution from these projects.

"Acting to protect the Mekong's natural wealth will ensure sustainable economic growth, protect food security and promote regional peace and prosperity," said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, in his statement to PM Abhisit.

"In a world facing a growing food and water crisis, we are asking the region's leaders to work together to protect the Mekong River for the benefit of all the region's people and to pursue better ways to meet the region's electricity needs," Sam Ath said.

More information: 

See postcard launch information on International Rivers' webpage and