Conservationists warn proposed dams could damage Mekong river

The Associated Press 13 November 2007


BANGKOK, Thailand: Six proposed dams on the Mekong River could displace up to 75,000 villagers and harm hundreds of species like the endangered giant catfish and Irrawaddy dolphin, conservationists warned Tuesday.

Premrudee Daoroung, director of the Bangkok-based environmental group TERRA, said 13-year-old plans to build four dams in Laos and one each in Thailand and Cambodia have been revived as part of efforts – mostly by China, Thailand and Vietnam - to find new energy sources for their growing economies.

"The natural flow of the river will all be completely changed," Premrudee said. "Of course, it will affect all the vegetation and fish on the river. Many species of fish will be lost because the river will become shallower and some parts may have no water at all during the dry season."

The proposed dams would add further pressure to the beleaguered Mekong, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The river and its vast tributary network already face threats from pollution, climate change and the effects of dams that were built in China and have caused water levels to drop sharply on the upper Mekong.

Conservationists urged the Mekong River Commission - which is made up of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand and tasked with managing navigation and development along the river - to take a public stance on the dam projects at its annual meeting starting Thursday in Cambodia.

They also called on the commission to release any studies or surveys on the six dams' effects on the river.

"Despite the serious ecological and economic implications of damming the lower Mekong, the Mekong River Commission remained notably silent," a coalition of 175 environmental and civic groups charged in a letter sent to the commission Monday. "We find this an extraordinary abdication of responsibility."

Conservationists fear that without some outside pressure, the dams - mostly funded by Chinese companies - will fail to include affected communities in their planning, to compensate relocated villagers for possible lost land and livelihoods, and will refuse to incorporate environmental and social safeguards into their projects.

No one from the commission could immediately be reached for comment on the environmentalists' statements.