WRM Bulletin Issue 125, December 2007
Old proposals of damming the Lower Mekong River were revived recently. According to press releases from the Thailand-based NGO TERRA, the governments of Lao PDR, Cambodia and Thailand have granted permission to Thai, Malaysian and Chinese companies, to conduct feasibility studies for up to six large hydro dams on the lower Mekong. Ten years ago the projects had been dismissed for their huge cost and potential environmental damage.
The international Mekong River Commission (MRC) has the obligation to protect the Mekong, According to TERRA (see press release and media briefing), “Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, the MRC is required ‘to make every effort to avoid, minimize and mitigate harmful effects that might occur to the environment… from the development and use of the Mekong River Basin water resources’ (Article 7).” However, although at the Mekong River Commission’s 6th Technical Symposium on Mekong Fisheries (2003) researchers concluded that “any dam on the Mekong mainstream . . . could be disastrous for fisheries...” the MRC has remained notably silent, said TERRA, who views that “Although the establishment of the MRC was hailed as a step towards overcoming past antagonisms in the Mekong Region, it continues to be dominated by the national interests of its member states, underpinned by a focus on economic benefits at the exclusion of all else.”
Some 175 local and international organizations --including WRM-- signed a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat, and donor institutions currently supporting MRC, expressing their concern over the projected construction of six hydropower dams in the Lower Mekong River as well as “the failure of the international Mekong River Commission to uphold the 1995 Mekong Agreement at this critical juncture” (see full letter).
Instead of responding to the serious issues raised in the letter, MRC’s move was to start checking if the signing organizations were real. No doubt MRC has the right to do that, but it should at least do it properly.
WRM received a message from MRC --signed by Lieven Geerinck-- saying that “the Mekong River Commission takes the statements very seriously”, and that “The list of signed organizations in attached document is quite important although we have found some agencies of less relevance to the topic (e.g. www.proyectogato.org). We do believe in genuine communication. Can you confirm that your organization has signed the attached letter?” (see MRC message)
It seems that MRC made a huge mistake in assigning Proyecto Gato -for which Jan Cappelle signed- “less relevance to the topic”. Had MRC bothered to google "Jan Cappelle" as well as "Proyecto Gato" it would have not confused it with an organization that looks after cats! (“gato” means “cat” in Spanish) and would have learned about their direct involvement in the issue of dams in the region.
But that was not their only mistake. The press release and the media briefing were clearly produced by TERRA – an organization that has been working on this issue for many years- so MRC should have replied to them and not write to some of the signatories to ask whether they had signed or not or whether they were “relevant to the topic” or not.
MRC should act in line with its alleged seriousness and respond to the demand to provide “some measure of professional oversight and technical assessment of the proposed dam projects” as well as give details of its "major strategy on coordination of all kinds of hydropower projects in the Mekong Basin to ensure a sustainable solution or alternative measures are put in place".
What has MRC done to ensure that dams that have been built in the Mekong Region since 1995 did not infringe basic human rights or result in environmental destruction? What has it done to address the impacts of dams that it was involved in before 1995?
Civil organizations from the Mekong River are still waiting for the response of MRC regarding these questions.