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.
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
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.
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
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
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.)