Activists concerned over dams

Bangkok Post 28 March 2008

Citizen groups and individuals from the six Mekong countries yesterday sent a letter to the new CEO of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat, expressing concern over the threats posed by proposed dams on the Mekong river. They urged new MRC chief Jeremy Bird to solve the agency's ''crisis of legitimacy and relevancy'' which they said was recently exemplified by its failure to respond to society's concerns over plans to dam the lower Mekong mainstream.

''We believe that you join the MRC at a most challenging time. The need for a credible and effective river basin management organisation in the Mekong region has never been more apparent, yet for the MRC a crisis of legitimacy and relevancy is looming,'' said the letter, which was signed by 21 organisations and individuals.

The move comes before the Third Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) summit in Vientiane on Sunday and Monday, when Mekong river basin management is expected to be one of the top issues discussed by leaders of the six GMS nations – Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

''The situation surrounding the proposed Mekong mainstream dams is too critical for the MRC to say that its only role is to serve its member states. This cannot serve as an excuse for its inaction and failure in addressing threats to the river and its people. We urge them to meet their responsibilities and obligations,'' said Premrudee Daoroung, director of the Bangkok-based Toward Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance.

Plans for up to eight large scale hydropower dams on the lower Mekong mainstream are moving rapidly ahead, she said. Last month, the proposed Don Sahong dam in southern Laos took a major step forward when a project development agreement was signed between the Lao government and a Malaysian company.

Earlier this week the Thai and Lao governments signed a memorandum of understanding to allow a private company to study the proposed 1,800 MW Ban Kum dam on the Thai-Lao border.

Damming the river would have a significant impact, particularly on fisheries, which would have devastating consequences on the food security of communities, said Ms Premrudee.

''The new CEO must clearly state what steps the MRC will take in response to widespread concerns over the proposed mainstream dams. It can start by immediately releasing to the public all analyses relating to the Don Sahong dam undertaken by the MRC,'' said the activist.