Mekong Commission blasted over river dams

The Nation 14 November 2007

Environmentalists slammed the Mekong River Commission yesterday for failing to protect the waterway.

They called for higher moral standards and transparency at the intergovernmental organisation.

"The commission needs to prove it is a useful organisation for the public, not just investors," said Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute director Surichai Wankaew.

Surichai told a news conference in Bangkok yesterday he wanted the commission's role changed.

Instead of "facilitating dam construction" it should be a platform for affected people and society to voice their concerns.

The Mekong commission was established in 1995 by an agreement between the governments of its riparian nations.

It is now under fire for failing to keep people informed of the negative impact of six proposed dams. The groups Terra (Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliances) and Living Rivers Siam (Searin) said the governments of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand had approved feasibility studies for five dams and hydroelectric power stations.

The dams are at Pak Beng, Xayabouri and Pak Lay in northern Laos; Don Sahong in southern Laos and Sambor in Cambodia.

Thailand is pushing ahead with plans for another dam at Ban Koum on its border with Laos.

Yesterday's attack comes a day after more than 200 civil and environment groups from 30 countries demanded the commission and donor institutions stop the dams.

However, Suchart Sirichan-sakul, of the Thailand National Mekong Committee, argued that the commission had no authority to stop or permit dams. "I'm afraid the non-governmental organisations misunderstand the fact that we are a consultant organisation. We don't have the authority to say yes or no to any dam construction project," he said.

Suchart said the activists should target the governments of the countries that proposed the dams.

The commission and its donors meet tomorrow at Siem Reap, Cambodia. Environment Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong represents Thailand.