Mekong River body calls for ideas on proposed dams

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has established a web page to allow the general public to make submissions regarding the 11 hydropower schemes proposed for construction in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand along the mainstream Mekong.

A resident in southern Laos’ Siphandone area, home to the proposed hydropower project Don Sahong, one of the 11 proposed schemes that the Mekong River Commission is calling for submissions from the public (Photo: Tuong Thuy)

The MRC is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members are Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
 
The submissions, which can be made at http://www.mrcmekong.org/ish/hydro-submit.asp or by post or fax, will provide input to the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment that is looking at the wider economic, social and environmental implications of the proposed dams in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

An announcement by MRC on July 14 says member countries will use information presented by the study to guide their decisions on these projects.
 
“Mekong governments have expressed a strong desire to understand the full range of opportunities and risks of any proposed mainstream hydropower project, particularly those of a regional nature, before a decision is taken to proceed,” Jeremy Bird, Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat, said in the statement.

“In order to do this effectively, it is important to have a broad consultation process that allows us to hear the views of communities, NGOs, researchers and businesses. These web page submissions provide one of the tools to help achieve this,” he added.

A Lao fisherman with what he caught from the Mekong River seen at the fish market Muang Sen in Khong District in southern Laos’ Siphandone area (Photo: Tuong Thuy)

Past studies have shown that the development of hydropower can be both positive and negative, for example, the electricity generated and foreign exchange earnings can support a country’s development programs, according to the Mekong River body.

“However, a major concern is the effect that proposed dams could have on fish migration and numbers, and ultimately – on the people that live in the river system and who rely on fish for their livelihoods and protein intake”, Xaypladeth Choulamany, a fisheries program coordinator at the MRC, said in the statement.

“What we need to do is to fully understand the basin wide implications of this and other impacts,” he added.
The submissions must be received by December 1, 2009, the MRC said. The suggestions must be limited to 2000 words or less. Additional supporting documents, such as scientific or consultant’s reports, published or peer reviewed data, photographs or other evidence, need to be sent via the e-mail address:hydropower@mrcmekong.org.

If submitters do not want their names associated with their statements in a public forum, they are asked to indicate that they wish to remain anonymous in their submissions, according to the MRC.
 
The body’s Strategic Environmental Assessment will build on the work undertaken by various MRC programs, including the fisheries, navigation and agricultural programmes as well as its existing Basin Development Planning process. 

The SEA seeks to identify the potential opportunities and risks as well as the contribution of hydropower to regional development.

The SEA, which will report its findings in late 2010, will help to systematically assess and make recommendations on alternative mainstream Mekong hydropower development strategies, including the regional distribution of costs and benefits with respect to economic development, social equity and environmental protection and among different affected interests and sectors.

By Tuong Thuy

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