Warnings on floods faulted

Bangkok Post 17 August 2008

By Anucha Charoenpo 

MRC bulletins 'not reaching' villagers

Environmentalists have hit out at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) for allegedly failing to alert people in member countries about flooding. The Thai People's Network on Mekong, the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, the Living River Siam and the Chiang Khong Conservation Group also rejected the commission's claim that the flooding has not been caused by water released from big dams in China.

Heavy rains have caused serious flooding in the MRC's four member countries of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Water from the Mekong river has overflowed its banks and inundated villages and farmland in the four countries, with villagers complaining to non-government organisations that the MRC had failed to warn them about the problem.

The MRC, an organisation set up to manage the Mekong river, issued a statement on Friday about the ongoing flooding. It claimed the present flood situation was the result of meteorological and hydrological conditions and not caused by water released from dams in China.

The volume of water stored behind the Chinese dams was far too small to cause flooding downstream, it said.

The flood being experienced at present is the result of water run-off in the northern part of the Mekong basin following heavy rainfall caused by tropical storm Kammuri.

The commission said it has monitored the flooding situation and issued warnings via its website and daily bulletins sent by fax to NGOs and the public.

Pienporn Deetes, a coordinator of the Chiang Mai-based Living River Siam, said she and her colleagues did not understand why the MRC had issued such a statement which was inconsistent with information she had.

''We can't accept that the MRC, which is representative of the four countries, has given untrue information to help protect China,'' Ms Pienporn said.

She said the severe flooding had caused serious hardship to people living along the Mekong river in Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong districts of Chiang Rai and in Nong Khai provinces.

Many affected people never received any warning from the MRC, which should have distributed the information through local officials and NGOs in those provinces.

''The MRC claimed that it had posted flood warnings on its website. In reality, do villagers use the internet and can they read English warnings? Even our organisations have never received any flood warnings from it,'' she said.

She called on the MRC to provide the public with actual information about the flooding which was caused by water released from three main dams _ Manwan, Dachaoshan and Jinghong _ in China.

She claimed that the total storage capacity of the three dams was 16,683 million cubic metres and this was enough to regulate water flow in the northern part of the Mekong river, including a large area in northern Thailand.

The Manwan dam alone had a storage capacity of 14,560 million cubic metres, while the biggest dam in Thailand, the Bhumibol dam, had a capacity of only 13,462 million cubic metres.

She said the other two upstream dams in China, Dachaoshan and Jinghong, have storage capacities of 890 million cubic metres and 1,233 million cubic metres, respectively.

Somkiat Khuaenchiangsa, a coordinator of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group, said the MRC has not disclosed the whole truth about the flooding.

The commission had avoided providing information about the severe flooding in Chiang Saen, which he said had been caused by natural rainfall as well as water released from the dams.

He said he was certain that the blasting of Mekong islets to clear the way for Chinese cargo ships was also another cause of heavy flooding.

The absence of the islets had resulted in the river flowing much faster than normal.

To prevent future floods, Mr Somkiat proposed that the MRC hold urgent talks.