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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mekong dams a disaster

Mekong dams a disaster

Mekong.jpg
Mekong.jpg

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.

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