Mekong Utility Watch

Blasting may not significantly alter Mekong, say officials

Vientiane Times
February 7, 2003

Thai officials have expressed concerns over a project to improve the Mekong’s shipping capacity. They say that alterations to the river’s natural geography may damage the Mekong ecosystem.

Thai officials visited the Prime Minister’s Office on February 4 to voice their concerns over the potential of the project to disrupt the environment and the lives of people living along both sides of the Mekong river. They asked what would happen if the rapids were blasted.

“I am afraid that the project for shipping lane improvements from China to Bokeo province will bring a lot of negative impacts on people who live along the Mekong river if the rapids are destroyed,” said Charmsak Pinthong, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Participation of Thailand.

“The water will change its course if the rapids are blasted and the water level will flow more quickly which may cause the banks to erode. The agricultural plantations of people
living along the Mekong river will be ruined if the river floods its banks during the wet season and is too low during the dry. Houses will also be destroyed if the Mekong
foods,” he added.

Lao officials say that under a Chinese-funded project some nine rapids have already been destroyed including the Namleuy rapid located 135 km from China, Tang-or rapid located 195 km from China and Luangtay 65 km from China.

“The rapids are a place for fish to breed and a place for Khay (river weed) to grow. But if there are no rapids the giant catfish Paa Beuk will not breed between Siengkhong, Thailand and Bokeo province, Laos. It doesn’t like to breed in the wet season because the water is dirty. It will only breed in the season when the water is clear, but if the rapids are blasted for ships the water will not be clear and the fish will be in danger,” said Mr CharmsakĀ  Pinthong.

During his visit, Mr Charmsak accompanied by his team met Mr Sitaheng Rasphone, Vice Chairman of the Lao National Mekong Committee in the evening of February 4 at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the negative and positive impacts of the project for shipping improvements among the Mekong subregion countries of Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China.

Many questions were asked by the Thai senate committee about public participation. They were clearly worried about the people’s living conditions on both sides of the Mekong

Sitaheng Rasphone responded to the question by saying that he could not give the answers because research has so far not been conducted between the four Mekong sub-region
countries about the impacts and benefits of the projects. “If the boats only carry around 100-150 tonnes they might not have much of a negative impact and we will try to spread
information for the people living along the Mekong river about the water level and seek for ways to cope with the problem,” he said.

“We will organise meetings that include local officials. So that, they can share their ideas about the project,” said Mr Sitaheng.

The main purpose of the project is to improve Mekong shipment from China to Bokeo province and to exchange and increase the trade relationship and tourism among the Mekong sub-region countries including Laos, Thailand, China, Myanmar.

“We are only blasting the rapids that cause difficulties for the boats sailing along the river. We are not blasting every rapid in the Mekong river,” said Mr Boriboun Sanasisan, Deputy General of the Lao National Mekong Committee.

He said that the negative impact would be minimal for people living along the Mekong river because Laos has co-operated with China to measure the water level many times and the
results of the measuring found that the water level had only changed a little bit from its original. The project is being implemented in accordance with the Government’s policy
to establish Laos as a transit country in the Mekong sub-region, he said. The project would motivate Lao people in the north to increase agricultural production and exports to other countries by boat.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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