Mekong man­darins ig­nor­ing ir­re­versible IM­PACTS OF DAMS

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Re­cent com­ments by the head of the Mekong River Com­mis­sion (MRC) at the MRC Stake­holder Fo­rum on the Pak Beng Dam and Coun­cil Study raise se­ri­ous con­cerns about the role and po­si­tion­ing of the MRC Sec­re­tar­iat and the fu­ture of de­ci­sion-mak­ing over hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment in the Mekong.

When asked about the im­pacts of dams on the Mekong River, the head of the MRC re­sponded, “hy­dropower on the Great Mekong will not kill the river”, He went on to say that the dams on the Mekong “will cause cer­tain im­pacts to the ecosys­tems through­out the basin”. Such com­ments con­tra­dict sci­en­tific stud­ies, in­clud­ing the MRC-com­mis­sioned Strate­gic En­vi­ron­men­tal As­sess­ment (SEA) on Mekong Main­stream Dams (2010), which found that “main­stream projects are likely to re­sult in se­ri­ous and ir­re­versible en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, losses in long-term health and pro­duc­tiv­ity of nat­u­ral sys­tems and losses in bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity and eco­log­i­cal in­tegrity”.

Stud­ies have shown that main­stream dams would have sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity in the Mekong basin and would fun­da­men­tally af­fect the river’s aquatic sys­tems. Pro­posed hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment on the Mekong River and its trib­u­taries would block crit­i­cal fish mi­gra­tion routes, dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing bio­di­ver­sity and fish catch in the largest fresh­wa­ter fish­ery in the world. The im­pacts will be com­pounded with each new dam that is con­structed. How­ever pro­posed projects on the lower Mekong main­stream con­tinue to be eval­u­ated one-by-one, ig­nor­ing cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts.

“Com­ments such as those made to me­dia by the MRC CEO not only down­play the ex­pected im­pacts from hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment in the Mekong, but di­min­ish the im­por­tance of the Mekong River for the mil­lions of peo­ple that de­pend on it,” said Pian­porn Deetes, Thai­land and Myan­mar cam­paigns di­rec­tor for In­ter­na­tional Rivers. “The Mekong River is recog­nised glob­ally as an iconic river due to its rich eco­log­i­cal re­sources and unique bio­di­ver­sity. Lo­cally it is es­sen­tial in sup­port­ing the food se­cu­rity and liveli­hoods of mil­lions of peo­ple. The MRC has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that the in­ter­ests of all who de­pend on the river are rep­re­sented.”

Rush­ing for­ward the PNPCA process for the Pak Beng Dam can­not erase the out­stand­ing prob­lems with de­ci­sion-mak­ing and con­struc­tion of the Xayaburi and Don Sa­hong Dams. The Prior Con­sul­ta­tion process for both the Xayaburi and Don Sa­hong dams failed to trans­par­ently ad­dress sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns raised by neigh­bour­ing coun­tries over trans­bound­ary im­pacts and re­quests for ad­di­tional stud­ies and ex­ten­sions of the con­sul­ta­tion pe­riod.

“To call the Xayaburi Dam a model for all Mekong main­stream dams is to re-write the project’s con­tro­ver­sial his­tory and to ig­nore its on­go­ing tech­ni­cal and pro­ce­dural prob­lems”, said Mau­reen Har­ris, South­east Asia Pro­gramme di­rec­tor. “Con­struc­tion of the Xayaburi Dam moved for­ward in the face of strong op­po­si­tion from Cam­bo­dia and Viet­nam and with no res­o­lu­tion to the Prior Con­sul­ta­tion process. Project stud­ies failed to eval­u­ate trans­bound­ary im­pacts. As a re­sult, the Xayaburi Dam has been the sub­ject of a law­suit in Thai­land’s Ad­min­is­tra­tive Court, brought for­ward by vil­lagers from north­ern Thai­land who will be af­fected by the im­pacts of the dam. The build first, study later ap­proach prop­a­gated by the Xayaburi Dam process is a dan­ger­ously ir­re­spon­si­ble model for dam-build­ing in the Mekong.”

The MRC Coun­cil Study will be com­pleted at the end of this year. Ini­ti­ated in 2012, at the spe­cific re­quest of the lead­ers of each MRC mem­ber coun­try, the Coun­cil Study in­tends to fill crit­i­cal knowl­edge gaps in un­der­stand­ing the im­pacts of hy­dropower along with other in­ter­ven­tions on the Mekong River. Given the lim­ited stud­ies on the cu­mu­la­tive and basin-wide im­pacts of dams on the Mekong main­stream, it is im­por­tant that the Coun­cil Study’s find­ings in­form de­ci­sion-mak­ing over fu­ture hy­dropower con­struc­tion on the river, in­clud­ing the Pak Beng Dam. At a min­i­mum, the MRC must take steps to halt or de­lay the PNPCA process for the Pak Be­ing Dam in or­der to al­low the Coun­cil Study to in­form de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Do­ing so is in the shared in­ter­est of all four MRC mem­ber coun­tries who re­quested the study.

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