I would like to respond to comments made about the Mekong River Commission (MRC)
in a recent Phnom Phenh Post article on downstream impacts of the Yali Falls Dam
in Cambodia (Cambodian villagers battle Viet dams, July 5-18, 2002).
The Mekong River Commission, which was established in 1995 by the governments of
Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam was set up to ensure sustainable and equitable
development of the Basin's water and related resources. To that end, MRC conducts
research, engages in participatory planning, disseminates research findings and facilitates
dialogue with key stakeholders, including civil society organizations.
MRC places particular emphasis on assessing and mitigating the transboundary impacts
of developments within the Lower Mekong Basin.
MRC has also been encouraging civil society organizations, including Oxfam America,
which is quoted in your article, to utilize MRC's data and expertise and to collaborate
with MRC. In 2000, MRC launched its new approach to working with civil society through
hosting an information-sharing meeting with more than 20 civil society groups from
across the region. MRC's ongoing work with civil society is illustrated through the
formal partnerships now forged with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
In the Post article, there were several statements made that require clarification.
Extracts from the Oxfam America report quoted in the article state that an EIA conducted
in 1993 by the Interim Mekong Committee, failed to study downstream impacts of the
Yali Falls Dam in Cambodia.
In 1993, Cambodia was embroiled in a protracted civil war and the stretch of the
Sesan River in Cambodia was inaccessible, therefore restricting the EIA to the accessible
sections of the river.
In understanding MRC's current role, it is important to realize the difference between
the "Interim Mekong Committee" and the Mekong River Commission formed in
1995. The Interim Committee involved only Thailand, Lao PDR and Vietnam, and was
concerned primarily with mapping of the river, feasibility studies and construction
of river works. MRC is an intergovernmental organization that includes Cambodia and
maintains a focus on sustainable development.
With regard to the Yali Falls Dam, MRC at the request of the governments of Cambodia
and Vietnam, facilitated the establishment of a joint committee to discuss the environmental
impact, management, adverse effects, the dam's water release and future construction.
MRC continues to facilitate meetings of this Committee through the provision of expert
advise from the MRC Secretariat. The meetings are coordinated by the governments
of Vietnam and Cambodia. MRC cannot dictate the direction or decisions that the committee
makes. That is the responsibility of the two governments concerned.
According to MRC's information Vietnam has not begun construction of the dam, as
claimed in the article. Construction of roads has begun, along with temporary housing
for workers, but construction of the dam itself is still some years away. Actions
so far have seen the hiring of two European firms by the Vietnamese government to
conduct a hydrologic study and an EIA. The results of this work will be known within
a few months after the study begins.
As required under the terms of MRC's 1995 Agreement, Vietnam notified Cambodia of
its plans to build the dam at the 11th MRC Joint Committee meeting on 28-29 March
2000. According to the Vietnamese authorities, the dam will both generate power and
regulate the flow of the river so that sudden surges of water cease, and more water
is available in the dry season. Vietnam has asked for Cambodia's comments on the
terms of reference for the EIA.
During 2001 and 2002, MRC had several contacts with Oxfam America to increase understanding
of MRC's role as a regional organization. At the last meeting, specific questions
regarding the Sesan project were discussed with both Oxfam representatives and members
of the Stung Treng community. In the course of these meetings, MRC has gone to some
length to explain that whilst MRC cannot play a direct role in NGOs' discussions
with the governments involved, it could facilitate Oxfam's doing so. MRC consequently
provided Oxfam with contacts for high-level officials in both Cambodia and Vietnam,
and an explanation of the processes being followed. In addition, MRC sought the results
of water quality testing that had been undertaken by the Cambodian government specifically
for Oxfam's purposes, and 2001, advised on how to pursue further questioning on this
issue. MRC also offered to provide Oxfam with hydrological data on the Sesan River
but to date, Oxfam has yet to follow up on this.
We understand that Oxfam has followed up with some contacts MRC provided in Cambodia,
but has not yet made use of contacts provided for Vietnam. Such contacts were considered
valuable for Oxfam and community leaders to understand the issues from a governmental
point of view.
To conclude, MRC is strongly committed to resolving trans-boundary issues, to developing
partnerships with civil society organizations and to developing collaborative relationships
with MRC member governments to facilitate development that benefits the people of
the Lower Mekong Basin.
MRC will continue to collaborate with a growing number of partners and hopes that
in future, Oxfam America and other civil society organizations take every opportunity
to work collaboratively with MRC and its member governments to raise awareness and
take the best advantage of information and contacts provided. Such collaboration
will increase opportunities to develop even broader understanding of MRC's roles
and responsibilities in the region so that mutually beneficial relationships between
our member countries and civil society can continue to grow stronger.
For the benefit of the people and communities of the Lower Mekong Basin I believe
it is our responsibility to do so.
ó Joern Kristensen, Chief Executive Officer, Mekong River Commission