The Mekong River Commission has come out with its strongest statement yet against
hydro-electric dams being built on the Mekong system.
Chnok Trou, an important fishing center at the entrance to the Great Lake. The relative merits of licensed fishing lots versus community fisheries is an ongoing debate.
In a major new report on Cambodia's inland fisheries, the MRC states bluntly among
a list of conclusions and recommendations: "Dams should not be built across
the mainstream Mekong and major tributaries because the consequences would be disastrous
for fish migrations and floodplain production downstream."
The Post obtained a draft copy of the report, the first comprehensive, authoritative
assessment of the resource. It says that large productive river-floodplain fisheries
in many other countries have been destroyed by development for irrigation, hydro-electricity,
domestic water supply and navigation.
"No-one doubts the need for development to provide essential services for expanding
populations, but in many cases the products of development are subsidized [by cheap
or free water and power] at the expense of the fisheries which provide essential
nutrition and livelihoods, particularly for poor people."
The report warns that, ironically, many developed countries are now reversing decades
of over-engineering of rivers by dismantling some dams and restoring river flows.
"Cambodia cannot afford to follow this expensive and wasteful path, but its
vital inland fisheries may well suffer a tragic fate if development is not guided
by the lessons learned elsewhere," says the report, which was written by a team
headed by scientist Dr Kent Hortle and signed by Dr Dao Trong Tu, officer in charge
of the MRC Secretariat, now based in Vientiane.
The commission has no mandate to act without the full endorsement of its member countries:
Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. It has a dialogue-only relationship with Mekong
system non-members China and Myanmar.
There are two dams across the mainstream Mekong in Yunnan, China, with combined output
capacity of 2850 megawatts; dams with total capacity of 23,000 MW are planned by
China, including the 4200 MW Xiowan, which when completed in 2012 will be the highest
in the world at 280 metres.
The Southeast Asia Rivers Network blamed the two Chinese dams for unusually low levels
in the Mekong during the 2003 dry season, but MRC officials disagreed, saying drought
was the major cause. However, MRC environmental program manager Ian Campbell said
the Xiowan would have a significant effect.
Eleven other power dams are operating on Mekong tributaries in Laos (5), Thailand
(4) and Vietnam (2), with total generating capacity at 1600 MW. There are no major
dams in Cambodia.