When the river runs dry

Phnom Penh Post 17 October 2010


Will Baxter

Cambodia and other countries in the lower Mekong region should delay any decisions about initiating hydropower projects for 10 years to allow for further research of potential impacts, according to a long-awaited environmental assessment study.

“Due to the uncertainties regarding scale and irreversibility of risks in such a complex river system ... decisions on mainstream dams should be deferred for a period of up to 10 years, with reviews made every three years to ensure that the necessary conditions to strengthen understanding of the natural systems as well as management and regulatory processes are conducted effectively,” said a statement that accompanied the study.

Tiffany Hacker, an interim communications adviser for the Mekong River Commission, which represents Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, said the recommendation for a delay was based on numerous “guidelines that essentially say there needs to be more supporting information, and that the potential impacts are not clear”.

“The full scale of the irreversible risks are still uncertain based on the information that [consultants commissioned by the MRC] were able to gather for the strategic environmental assessment,” she said.

The 11 hydropower projects proposed for the lower Mekong have received widespread criticism from conservationists and rights workers, many of whom welcomed the recommendation for a deferment.

Phal Lika, a hydropower and community rights project officer at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said yesterday that the proposed decade-long delay was “a good
recommendation”.

Pich Dun, secretary general of the government’s National Mekong Committee, said yesterday that “if all the dams are built as planned, there will be affects on fisheries, biodiversity, ecology, and loss of wetlands”.

“In Cambodia, when wetlands are lost, it means that people cannot cultivate their crops,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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