T HE core study prepared for the Mekong Secretariat on hydroelectric dams was done
"as if it were a simplistic plumbing problem," a United States consultant
said earlier this year.
Hydrology expert Dr Philip Williams of California, in a report prepared for International
Rivers Network (IRN), also said the authors of the Secretariat's 1994 report ignored
advise from their own fishery biologists.
The report concluded that power development on the lower Mekong was viable.
Its author was a dam construction consultant, Williams said.
He said the report was flawed in methodology and economic analysis, was biased and
incomplete, and had unjustified recommendations.
The report - which the Secretariat has been relying on to make its decisions - discussed
"viability" only in economic terms, and left ecological damage as no more
than a "consideration," he said.
The study did little to "avoid or minimize impacts" of the dam projects,
as it was supposed to do, he said.
"Instead, a selection of dam locations and heights are based more on engineering
criteria, with the number of relocated people a secondary consideration," he
Most importantly, say environmentalists, the report does not include any cost on
the destruction of fisheries, agriculture, and increased costs for public health,
water treatment and infrastructure.
"The only environmental costs... are the three percent project costs for "mitigation"
and community development and $5,500 per displaced person," Williams said.
The report's assessment of electricity revenues were uncertain, he added.
The report said that environmental impacts of a staircase of dam projects would "not
Williams said: "... a staircase of dam projects... would directly destroy 1,400
kilometers of riparian and riverine ecosystems of the world's 10th largest river,
and would fundamentally alter its entire hydrologic and ecologic system."
"This opinion would clearly not be shared by any credible ecologist and in fact
is at variance with the opinions of the consultant team's own fisheries biologists
who... 'stress that data now available are insufficient to support any analysis of
the impact of the projects'," he said.
Williams also said that the report gave a biased, low estimation of how many people
would be forced from their land because of upstream dam constructions.
"A more reasonable conclusion than that of the report's would have been: 'In
view of the potential for severe adverse social, environmental and economic impacts;
prior to implementation of major dam projects in the Mekong Basin it is essential
that a thorough independent and objective watershed analysis be carried out. Such
an analysis would be directed towards developing a complete understanding of the
hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and social geography of the river system, and evaluating
all existing beneficial uses of the river'," Williams wrote.