Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday dismissed concerns that hydroelectric dam projects on the Mekong River in China had disrupted the river’s flow, claiming that the recent spate of floods and droughts was the result of climate change.
Speaking to reporters following the ACMECS summit in Phnom Penh yesterday, the premier mocked claims that dam projects, including completed dams on the upper Mekong in China, had resulted in historically low water levels on the country’s largest river.
“The rising of water and the lowering of the water along the Mekong – is that a result of hydroelectricity?” he said. “I would like to show you some figures.”
The premier said that in 1998 the Mekong hit a record low of 7.5 metres, but in 2000 rose to nearly 12 metres.
The so-called “Mighty Mekong” dropped to its lowest level in 50 years in northern Thailand and Laos earlier this year, alarming communities who depend on the waterway for food, transport, drinking water and irrigation.
Hun Sen blamed the variance of the Mekong’s water levels on climate change and carbon emissions.
“It’s related to the emissions that changed the pattern of the rains,” Hun Sen said.
“So don’t be too extreme of an environmentalist, and don’t say that because of the hydroelectricity there is no water in the lower part of the Mekong. That would be a mistake,” he warned.
Last year, Hun Sen said, China faced a shortage of water.
“So how could you blame China when there is no water?”
China has eight planned or existing dams on the Mekong River and rejects activists’ claims that these have contributed to low water levels downstream.
A total of 12 dams have been proposed for the Lower Mekong River, including two in Cambodia.
During a meeting on Monday, Vietnamese premier Nguyen Tan Dung asked Hun Sen to speed up approval of the Sesan II hydropower dam in Stung Treng province, a message Hun Sen relayed to Industry Minister Suy Sem, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said.
A report commissioned by the Mekong River Commission and released last month found that Cambodia was the country “most exposed to fish losses” due to planned Lower Mekong hydropower projects among the MRC’s member countries, which also include Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
The document says “more than 1 million fisheries-dependent people could lose their livelihoods” in Cambodia due to impacts from mainstream Mekong dams, and that the country would have difficulty generating alternative protein sources to make up for the loss of an estimated 300,000 tonnes of fish per year.
Earlier this month, Cambodia signed an agreement to allow two Chinese state firms to study the feasibility of four proposed hydro dams, which included the two mooted Mekong projects in the Kingdom. Wu Bangguo, China’s top-ranking legislator, was in Phnom Penh for the signing.
Hun Sen said yesterday that Vietnam’s Nguyen had expressed support for his request that Vietnam increase the supply of electricity to Cambodia from 120 to 170 megawatts. Nguyen noted, however, that Vietnam has electricity problems of its own due to its light rainy season, Hun Sen said.
Cambodia and Vietnam currently have an agreement under which Vietnam is to supply 200 megwatts annually to its western neighbour. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP