T HE masterplan to develop the Mekong River - including 20 Cambodian projects - will
be put up for "sale" by the Mekong River Commission's Joint Committee in
Ho Chi Minh City next month.
The Cambodian projects - including eight dams - were submitted just three days before
the deadline of the committee's second meeting last November.
Sources say the Cambodian plan was accepted "on titles only" and, together
with plans from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, included in the regional masterplan.
Sources say that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) - which is playing
an increasingly important role in facilitating the ambitious developments - has been
instrumental in offering up the projects to prospective donors. UNDP also has an
expert advisor on the Joint Committee, and has spent more than $2.8 million supporting
the commission and is paying the salary of the commission's CEO, a Japanese former
"Now we have the masterplan finished, we will approve it next month in Ho Chi
Minh City," said Khy Taing Lim, Cambodia's representative in the Joint Committee.
Taing Lim used to work for the Mekong Committee in the 1960s. An engineer, he helped
build or plan three Cambodian dams during the 60s, and later in Canada was site manager
of the huge James Bay 1 dam.
Taing Lim said the up to 30 donors would likely be attending the Nov 8-9 meeting
which would be a "shopping list" for the four commission countries.
The regional masterplan includes almost 100 projects, most in the field of damming
and hydro-electric power generation, he said.
"We will present the work program of 1996 and then it's up to the donors to
pick up the projects they want to include in their budgets.
"We can call it a shopping list because now we have already identified the priority
projects," Taing Lim said.
Cambodia's plan for funding includes some projects that have been finished; some
of which are on-going, and seven new projects.
Projects include aerial photography, fisheries and wetland management, irrigation
and transportation. However, it is the eight dam projects that most worry critics.
One of the priority projects is a reappraisal of the Sambor dam in Kratie, which
has caused widespread concern among NGOs, environmentalists and the Ministry of Environment.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth said last August that although the Sambor project
could lead to a "quick economic income" it would only be temporarily and
he warned against short-sighted policies on the cost of the natural environment.
The Sambor project - the showpiece of a Cambodian system that could eventually see
the generation of 3,000 megawatts of power, most of which would be sold to Thailand
- would also cause huge dislocation of Mekong-based communities, say critics.
Touch Sean Tana, fisheries advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,
who is also on Cambodia's National Mekong Committee, also warned against the creation
of huge dams, as it would reduce
the water flow from which thousands of Cambodians depend.
But Taing Lim said Sambor could proceed as a smaller project of as little as 500
megawatts "which would not affect the local people."
Taing Lim said the three most important projects for Cambodia were all connected
to the Tonle Sap. He said the commission had stressed the importance of the environment.
"We have three big projects around the Great Lake (Tonle Sap) and none of them
are on the main stream.
"In the [commission's] agreement, the Mekong projects are based on the environment.
This is a new philosophy, we take care of the environment," said Taing Lim.
Critics point out though that Thailand needs about 88 percent of the energy in the
Lower Mekong Basin, 84 percent of the power potential lies in Laos and Cambodia.