MORE than 23,000 people have signed a petition demanding a halt to the construction of 11 hydropower projects planned for the Mekong River mainstream, including two in Cambodia, citing concerns the dams will wreak social and environmental havoc on the river and those living near it.
During the ASEAN People’s Forum in Cha-Am, Thailand, on Sunday, representatives from Save the Mekong, a regional NGO coalition, presented Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with a petition signed by 23,110 people from 50 countries.
“The Save the Mekong petition aims to make heard the people’s voices for protecting the Mekong as a giant food chain and cultural lifeline for millions of people,” the coalition said in a statement Monday.
Save the Mekong says dams will block migratory fish populations, endangering aquatic resources worth up to US$9.4 billion per year that provide incomes and livelihoods to millions of local fishermen.
The petition was signed by 15,282 people from within the Mekong region – including 2,682 from Cambodia, where two dams are planned for the Mekong River in Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.
Carl Middleton, Mekong programme coordinator of International Rivers, which is involved with the coalition, said Abhisit had been receptive to discussing hydropower concerns through ASEAN forums, which could allow NGOs to put more equitable energy policies on the table.
“There are better ways to meet the Mekong region’s energy needs than building large dams, but to pursue these sustainable-energy solutions, energy planning processes must be reformed to consider all options on a level playing field,” he said.
The petition comes a few days after the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the regional body tasked with coordinating river development, issued a statement arguing that communities should have “more say” in development along the Mekong.
Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, the MRC’s local office, said the organisation had welcomed NGO and community input on river developments through public forums, such as the MRC’s Second Regional Stakeholder Forum, held in Chiang Rai, Thailand, last week.
“We invited NGOs and representatives to contribute their ideas to the MRC ... not only on hydropower projects, but also in other developments along the Mekong,” he said.
Middleton said the MRC’s commitment to community engagement was a welcome development, but added that the proof of its intent would be in the end results.
“The critical test remains, however, of how to translate this aspiration into practice and ensure that community voices are heard and their concerns actually acted upon,” he said.