Over 18 million people live off the natural bounty of the The Mekong Delta, writes Tom Fawthrop - the source of huge annual harvests of fish, rice, fruit, and one of the world's most productive ecosystems. But now huge dams threaten to strangle the Mekong river and the abundant life it supports, while the world sits idly by.
A public consultation organized by the Mekong River Commission was held in Pakse, Laos, last week, where opponents continued to call for Laos to reconsider a controversial dam project.
Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation, a company tasked with building the Don Sahong dam, briefed regional participants on its social and environmental impacts, in the meeting on Friday.
But officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam remain skeptical of their findings of no significant impact or threat to fish population or migration.
Somkiat Prajamwong, director of the Office of Project Management at the RID, said officials have agreed to appoint an independent organisation to appraise the value of the Mae Wong forest and study the water management proposal.
He was speaking Wednesday after an Office of Natural Resources and Environment Policy and Planning (Onep) panel, which was tasked with considering the dam's environmental and health impacts, failed to reach a conclusion based on two reports into the project.
The environmental health impact assessment for the Mae Wong Dam is too flawed for the project to get approved, environmentalists told an academic forum yesterday.
Somruthai Tasaduak, of the Water Resource Engineering Department at Kasetsart University, said the EHIA clearly showed key information about the project was missing.
"There are no details on how to direct water to communities and how to ensure that the water volume will be adequate for those who live downstream," he said. Somruthai said information on construction was also missing.
Six years ago, former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for the 3,000MW Dibang multipurpose dam project. The dam, to be built across the Dibang river, in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, will be the country’s largest. The state plans to build more than 160 dams in the coming years.
This move, via national consultation forums, comes in response to controversy over many dams built on the river now affecting people in many states, especially those in downstream areas.
"We will listen to local people's opinions," Chaiporn Siripornpibul said as representative of the Thai National Mekong Committee and inspector for Thailand's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
Cambodians staged a protest Thursday to share the concerns of more than a quarter of a million people who are calling on Laos to suspend construction of the Don Sahong hydropower project on the Mekong River.
At the protest Chhith Sam Ath, country director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said Don Sahong Dam, a 260-megawatt hydropower project, could bring about the demise of important fisheries and critically endangered Mekong dolphins.
Sompong Wiengjun sits on a balcony of her house along a dirt road running parallel to the Mun River in Khong Chiam district, Ubon Ratchathani. She sighs while gazing at the foul-smelling river. Twenty years ago, she would have been catching fish and planting vegetables along the river bank.
Life would have been simple and sustainable, only if the Pak Mun Dam had never been built.
Activists have urged Cambodia and Vietnam to use the Mekong River Commission's second high-level summit this weekend to take a stand against a controversial dam project in Laos.
The prime ministers of the four member countries - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - are to meet Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City to review development projects for the Mekong river, including the divisive Xayaburi dam in Laos.
Activists believe the 3.8-billion-dollar project will destabilise the river’s ecosystem. Developers say however that there are ways to mitigate the dam's environmental impact.
Dozens of protesters began a 2,400-kilometre march Sunday to northern Myanmar, calling for the cancellation of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam project over environmental concerns.
The US$3.6 billion (115 billion baht) dam along the Irrawaddy River was supposed to export about 90% of the electric power it generated to neighbouring China, but President Thein Sein's government ordered it suspended in 2011, saying it went "against the will of the people."