‘We cannot eat electricity’

Key Issues: 

Thanh Nien 8 February 2010

The adverse impacts of climate change on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam will be amplified several times if hydropower dams planned upstream by other countries are built, experts say.

Both local and international experts said at a forum on the Mekong River environment organized by the Can Tho University on Wednesday that the dams will seriously threaten food security in riparian countries. 
Dao Trong Tu, former Vietnam country coordinator for the Mekong River Commission, said three hydropower dams are already under construction in China, and another 11 were planned in Laos and Cambodia.

La Chhuon, an expert of Oxfam Australia in Cambodia, said fishermen in the country had told him they wanted to eat fish and would not be able to eat electricity generated by hydropower dams.

Without exception, every resident was unhappy with the building of dams and did not care for the compensation they would get when they are displaced by such projects, he added.

Carl Middleton, Mekong Program Coordinator of International Rivers, an INGO, that seeks to protect rivers and defend the rights of communities that depend on them, stressed that the projects threatened food security in the region.

He estimated that Mekong riparian countries would lose 700,000 to 1.6 million tons of fish a year to the dams, while this has been the main food for millions people there.

Who benefits?

Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen of Palang Thai, a Thailand-based non-profit organization, said the predicted electricity consumption in Thailand was always higher than actual demand.

According to the Palang Thai website, it “works to ensure that the transformations that occur in the region's energy sector are economically rational, and that they augment, rather than undermine, social and environmental justice and sustainability.”

Sangarasri accused companies investing in hydropower projects of being motivated solely by economic benefit rather than helping fight power shortages. She said such motivations should be eliminated and more accurate assessments made of power needs.

Natural resources can meet genuine demand but cannot satisfy human greed for profit, she said.

Nguyen Huu Thien, a Vietnamese wetlands expert, said the river flows would be controlled by the managers of hydropower dams to the detriment of other people’s interests.

He said there would be less silt supplied by the river and farmers would have to spend more on fertilizers. The losses caused to farmers and other residents would outweigh by far the total benefits generated by dams, he added.
Reported by Thanh Nien staff