Experts rail against dam project

Vietnam News Agency 7 March 2011

Construction of the Xayaboury Dam on the lower Mekong threatens to destroy the river's eco-system. Researchers voiced their concerns about the project to newspapers Lao dong (Labour) and Nguoi Lao dong (The Labourer)

Professor Nguyen Dinh Hoe from the Viet Nam Association for the Protection of Nature and Environment: Laos should not build the Xayaboury Power Plant.

Xayaboury is one of 12 hydro-power plants planned for the main stretch of the Mekong River. Once built, about one third of river water will be regulated by man and this will form a precedent for future projects in the area. Everybody knows how bad it will be if these dams are built.

The people whose lives depend on the river will be affected. In Viet Nam, millions of people live on the lower reaches of the river, where between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of rice will be damaged each year because of the lack of water, and likewise aquaculture. The change in the natural flow will break the river's eco-system. The river should be regarded as the common property of six countries.

The project has become an environmental security issue for the six countries that share the lower reaches of the Mekong River. The construction of hydro-power plants on trans-border rivers needs to be based on the multilateral interests of the countries concerned. In my opinion, dams and hydro-power plants must not be built on the main flow of trans-border rivers. It is possible to build moderate dams on tributary rivers. Laos needs to take measures for sustainable development, rather than acting selfishly and negatively affecting other countries.

Doctor Le Anh Tuan from the Research Institute for Climate Change: Don't invest in building dams on the Mekong River.

Leaders and scientists must protest against the construction of dams on the main flow of the Mekong River, or they should call for them to be delayed by at least ten years because Viet Nam is unlikely to benefit from the projects. The loss that we might incur could be huge. We have asked the National Assembly to stop Vietnamese companies from investing in these dams, or buying electricity from the power plants.

It is essential that we help farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta develop drought and salt resistant rice seedlings and increase aquaculture in salt water areas. People must also try to conserve electricity to cope with energy shortages.

Ky Quang Vinh, director of the observation and testing centre under the Can Tho Department of Natural Resources and Environment: It is necessary to store water and establish a fish research centre.

Researchers are yet to find whether the construction of a dam, especially an uninterrupted one on a river, would ensure sustainable development.

Surveys conducted by Sweden's Umea University and the World Resources Institute found the ecological environment on China's Yangtze River had been gravely impacted upon after the Tam Hiep (Three Gorges) dam was completed.

A US Geological Survey also found that fish output dropped to almost zero compared with over 20,000 tonnes that were caught annually before the first dam was built on the Columbia River 80 years ago.

Hydro-power is not the only way of producing electricity. Experience has taught us that a country cannot develop if it overexploits its resources.

To cope with drought and salt water intrusion, farmers in the Mekong delta should store water in the dry season to irrigate their rice fields. Besides this, it is necessary to establish a centre for fish research to preserve different species of fish in the long run.

Nguyen Huu Thien, an agronomist and wetlands specialist: Don't build the dam.

The best thing would be not to build 12 dams on the Mekong River. It would be difficult to find any adaptable measures if they were built, and the delta might have to pay an expensive price for this. For instance, the paths of migrating fish would be blocked, spelling out a disaster in terms of food security. There are measures we can take to mitigate these losses. If alluvium levels drop, then we can use more fertilisers to maintain productivity, but this is only a short term solution.

Once built, dams on the Mekong River would cause a vast loss of land, adversely impacting on the life of tens of million of people. It would be difficult to compensate that loss and even more so among neighbouring countries. — VNS

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