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Damming the Mekong

The Editor,

First of all, I would like to praise the formation of the

Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Cambodia's participation. It is a first and

most critical step toward the resolution of issues facing the Mekong River and

the Indochina region. The MRC's goal of seeking "peaceful, prosperous and

sustainable" development of the Mekong River is a very noble one. The MRC must

remember that actions speak louder than words. Any thoughtless action could

drastically and adversely affect people's lives from the Tibetian mountains to

the South China Sea delta.

Environmental issues facing Cambodia are more

critical than all the political, social and economic issues combined. Without a

healthy and sustainable environment, nothing else matters.

My primary

concern is to focus on the proposal that may alter or change the Mekong River

and Tonle Sap fragile ecosystems to suit short-term human economic

needs.

Rivers have no political boundaries. The MRC and all nations that

the Mekong flows through must recognize this fact. Any action to alter this

river by any nation will affect all nations. For this reason, a general

consensus is required and absolutely necessary. The MRC is a representative of

all nations and should be a trusted guardian of the Mekong. It must serve

faithfully to benefit everyone, without bias.

As an environmental

conservator with the USDA Forest Service, I am absolutely frightened to read

about the proposed eleven major hydroelectric dams along the Mekong. Everybody

should be terrified about this proposal. Without recognizing the social and

environmental consequences brought on from such a proposal, it would be

irresponsible. Five million Cambodians and more Vietnamese will suffer the most

from the proposed dams. It is especially true for the Khmers who live around the

Tonle Sap. The impact could be catastrophic and irreversible. The short-term

economic benefits may not make up for the tremendous long-term social and

environmental losses should this proposal move forward as planned.

Ask

the locals living along its banks how important the Mekong is. They tell many

stories handed down from generations. They are not only more knowledgeable but

more respectful than the MRC or any researchers. Long-term study and data

collection is absolutely necessary in order to make proper decisions. The MRC

must consider the consequences brought on by the proposed dams, and be

responsible and accountable.

There are many things, such as Environmental

Analysis (EA) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), to consider before a

plan can even be considered for implementation. The following step by step

process is just an example:

A. Purpose & Need

Any proposal should be enshrined in law. In Cambodia, the Parliament must

mandate and authorize the government to act, clearly defining the purpose and

need for action.

B. Alternative Formulation

The government (by law) is to develop alternatives using an interdisciplinary

team (IDT) that consists of experts and specialists. These alternatives must

represent a wide range of options that take into account the need of all

resources, including socio-economic (human), scenic, water quality, vegetation,

threatened flora and fauna.

C. Affected Environment

A long-term study by the IDT is critical. A surgeon can't operate without

first diagnosing the condition. Diagnoses of the Mekong environment is no

different.

D. Environmental Consequences

This is probably the most critical in identifying what ecological effect the

hydroelectric dams will have. What is the cost-benefit ratio? How will these

proposals benefit mankind, and at what cost? Will the short-term economic

benefit off-set the costs of long-term social and environmental sustainability?

To put it simply, is it worth the sacrifice? In addition, are you willing to

make those sacrifices personally? If the answer is no then it is not worth

it.

E. International Waterway Rules

Are there such rules in place to follow? If not, the MRC better make up ones

that everyone can live with. Without rules there will be conflicts that could

lead to war. Thailand's "we do what we want to do" attitude concerning this

waterway and its refusal of accepting veto by other nations is a perfect

example. What Thailand wants to do upstream and its "none of your business"

attitude could seriously violate other nations' rights. Cambodia, for instance,

needs a certain amount of water to sustain all life. Any change in water quanity

or quality will have a catastrophic consequence.

I am in full favor of

responsible development that takes into account the need for everything,

including human and natural environment needs. What I saw concerning the

proposed Mekong River project is irresponsible. One must remember that damming a

river is a leading cause of environmental degradation worldwide; an irreversible

impact that affects everyone. Without a sustained environment, we are doomed as

a species. Life is full of compromises, but people in the position of authority

should never compromise their principles nor their moral responsibilities; not

when millions of people lives and the environment is at stake.

- Ronnie Yimsut

(My personal and professional background: I used to live on the northern edge

of Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap before being forced to flee by the KR. I have

been returning to my native homeland ever since the signing of the Paris Peace

Accord. In the last three years, I have worked tirelessly to better my native

country and people as a volunteer. My heart and soul are still with Cambodia and

her people despite almost two decades of separation by unfortunate

circumstances. I am currently working for the USDA Forest Service, a world

leader in natural resources conservation, in Oregon. I also serve as a Volunteer

Environmental Consultant to the World Monuments Fund, based in New York, on

conservation projects at Angkor Ecosite in Siem Reap. Much of my work is

directly involved in environmental analysis and resources conservation. I have

had over eight years of practical experience in professional practice.)

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