Mekong dam projects will cost more in damages, says MRC report

The Nation 2 July 2010 

By Chularat Saengpassa, Pongphon Sarnsamak

A recent report from the Mekong River Commission revealed that 12 dams in Lower Mekong River would cause serious problems for the two million people living downstream in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

The report entitled "MRC SEA for Hydropower on Mekong Mainstream, Impact Assessment and Discussion Draft" was presented at a regional meeting held to assess the impact of the Mekong River dam projects.

The report showed that if the 12dam project went ahead, it would adversely affect poor people living downstream in the three countries. These people live along the river in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture and other natural resources for income.

According to the report, Laos will have a dam each in Pak Beng, Luang Prabang, Saiyaburi, Pak Lay, Latsua, Don Sahong and Thakho; the ThaiLao border will have three dams, namely Sanakham, Pak Chom and Ban Koum; while Cambodia will have two dams, namely Stung Treng and Sambor.

The report showed that the Pak Chom and Ban Koum dams on the ThaiLao border would affect 588,189 people living in Loei province, and 413,140 people in Ubon Ratchathani. It added that these dams would also change the boundary lines between the two countries.

Dam construction projects in Lower Mekong River would also have an adverse effect on the wetlands, ecological system and the economy. Damages to the wetlands would be to the tune of Bt224 million per year, the report said.

The report also showed that the 12 dams would stop 55 per cent of the river from flowing freely. The Mekong would become a huge reservoir and the dams will destroy natural islets, sandbanks and hamper the incubation of freshwater tropical fish and other aquatic animals. Plus the dams will affect Mekong's more than 40 tributaries.

Senator Prasarn Marukpitak said yesterday that the Thai delegation had voiced opposition to the project at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) meeting.

Prasarn chairs the Senate subcommittee studying the value, development and impacts on the Mekong subregion. The meeting was also attended by delegations from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

"Though these dams can generate power, there are in fact several other alternative energy sources we can rely on," Prasarn pointed out. "I think we should let the Mekong flow naturally. Humans should not interfere with its course."

He said his panel would soon decide whether it should forward its opinion on the project to the government for further action.

According to him, Thailand and Laos had signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of the Ban Koum Dam during the Samak Sundaravej government. However, the construction could not go ahead on the Thai side due to strong opposition from the public.

"The construction on the Laos side has already started," Prasarn said.