Govt urged to scrap Mekong dam plans

Bangkok Post 15 March 2010

People living along the Mekong River want the government to scrap its plans to build dams, to help safeguard the river from further exploitation.

"Experience and scientific evidence show there is no way to heal environmental and social damage caused by mega-dams," the Mekong People Network said in a statement yesterday to mark International Day of Action for Rivers.

"The dams will destroy our food sources and bring severe droughts to the river," the residents said.

The government plans to build two dams on the mainstream Mekong River - Ban Koum dam in Ubon Ratchathani, and Pak Chom dam in Loei.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Theera Wongsamut said the ministry also planned water gates on the Mekong tributaries to save water for agricultural purposes instead of letting it flow into the Mekong River.

"The government must stop using the drought to justify its plan to build more dams, which have proved they can overcome neither droughts nor flooding," the villagers said.

The group also urged the government to join forces with the other three member countries of the Mekong River Commission - Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos - in seeking an explanation from China on the impact of Chinese dams on the downstream Mekong.

The government must raise the matter at the MRC meeting in Hua Hin early next month, they said. The water level in the Mekong has hit a 20-year low, which some farmers believe is related to the Chinese dams. China, however, denies it is hogging water, and insists water levels have fallen because of the drought.

Meanwhile, about 500 villagers gathered yesterday on the banks of the Salween River in Mae Hong Son's Sob Moei district to oppose dam construction on the Salween - the last free-flowing international river in Southeast Asia.

The villagers, mostly fishermen and horticulturalists, performed a traditional ritual to bless the river's fertility.

Conservationists and villagers are protesting against the proposed Hut Gyi and Ta Sang hydropower dams on the river. The dams will be developed jointly by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and Burma.