Web site to gather input on 'risks and opportunities' of project.
THE Mekong River Commission (MRC) has launched a new Web site calling for public comment on the 11 large-scale hydropower dams planned for the lower Mekong, amid fears that the projects could lead to environmental degradation and displacement.
In a statement Monday, the regional body, which counts Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand as members, argued that input from the public would ensure that Mekong countries understand the "full range of risks and opportunities" offered by hydroelectricity development.
"[I]t 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," Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Vientiane-based MRC Secretariat, said in the statement.
It added that, under the 1995 Mekong Agreement that established the MRC, member countries must undergo a formal intergovernmental consultation process prior to the construction of dams on the river.
Damian Kean, a spokesman for the Secretariat, said by phone that although consultations have been ongoing, the Web site would help strengthen the body's Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), a preliminary assessment that will help guide the MRC's approach to dams proposed for the Mekong mainstream.
"The idea is to get public submissions so that there is a broader scope to the SEA," he told the Post, adding that this is the first time such a direct line to the public has been opened. Submissions will be accepted until December 1.
Environmental groups said the call for direct public input was a positive step.
"The MRC's SEA could potentially contribute a deeper scientific understanding on the likely costs and benefits of the mainstream dams," said Carl Middleton, Mekong programme coordinator at International Rivers.
He added that the process could also lead to the release of information that is of vital interest to the public, which would be a welcome change from previous dam plans that have been prepared "behind closed doors".
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said that the public was unlikely to support the dam projects wholeheartedly due to their likely environmental and social impacts, though he urged the MRC to take public input seriously.
"I think it depends on the representatives of the governments in the region to be clear about how they can use the comments gathered from stakeholder consultations," he said.
"I would strongly suggest that the governments and the MRC take this seriously, and that decisions are made based on the comments that are collected."
Save the Mekong, a regional NGO coalition, claims that the lower Mekong dam projects - in addition to eight more planned or in operation on the upper reaches of the Mekong in China - will threaten regional food security and the livelihoods of millions of people, including thousands inside Cambodia.