Conservationists to raise Mekong issues

The Nation 5 November 2002

Supalak Ganjanakhundee

In the wake of the Phnom Penh summit of MekongBasin leaders, more than 200 local people and conservationists will next week voice their concerns over the impact of development projects.

Regional conservationists, including the Oxfam Mekong Initiative and Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra), will gather in Ubon Ratchathani from November 9 to 12 to discuss alternatives for development within the river basin.

Development projects, notably hydroelectric dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, would adversely affect local communities, alleged Terra coordinator Dave Hubbel.

"The biggest concern is that dams in China's Yunnan province would affect downstream countries, especially their fisheries, which provide a major source of protein for poor people in Laos and Cambodia," he said.

China plans to build a series of dams on the upper Mekong in Yunnan to generate electricity for domestic and regional use.

It completed the Manwan Dam in 1996 and in the same year began work on a second dam at Dachaochan, to be completed by next year.

A third dam, Xiaowan, was begun last year and should be finished in 2012.

Five more dams are in the planning stages.

Hydropower dams and their related grid systems highlighted at the Phnom Penh summit drew strong criticism from social workers last week.

Academics and officials from six Mekong riparian states -- Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - have been invited to join the dialogue with conservationists and local people, Hubbel said.

He complained that the governments of the six countries and project development promoters such as the Asian Development Bank rarely took into account the concerns of local communities, although they often vowed to allow the participation of local people and NGOs in the projects, said Hubbel.

Witoon Permpongsacharoen of Terra expected that officials at the decision-making level next week would respond to the demands of local communities.