April 18, 2004
Fears of devastating damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Mekong River are spurring the Senate foreign affairs committee to send a letter to the Chinese government, calling for a halt to all further damming of the upper Mekong.
Noting the extensive destruction of the riparian environment caused by the Chinese government’s efforts to dam the Mekong and dynamite islands and rapids, Sen. Kraisak Chunhavan, chair of the foreign affairs committee, warned that the ecological time bomb on the river was now beginning to explode.
Extensive damming operations by the Chinese government oblivious to seasonal variations in the ecological cycle had lead to the rapid erosion of river banks and a consequent loss of farm land, while blasting rapids had left fish without breeding grounds and lead to a massive reduction in the river’s fish population.
Most importantly, the Chinese operations had served to change the course of the river; thus, affecting the already contested border separating Thailand from Laos.
“The more rapids that are blasted to allow large Chinese freight vessels to sell goods in Thailand, the more Thailand is put at a disadvantage”, Mr. Kraisak said, adding that the views of the Senate committee had already been forwarded to the government.
He also confirmed that the committee planned to send a protest letter to Beijing to call for a halt to damming and blasting operations on the Mekong.
The Mekong River Commission, which China has refused to join, recently warned that the 3,000-metre long river, which flows from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is now at its lowest level in recorded history.
Mr. Niwat Roikaeow, a leading member of a non-governmental organization (NGO) supporting the preservation of the ancient Mekong settlement of Chiang Khong in the nothern province of Chiang Rai, said that a Chinese official had been sighted in the area preparing to engage in blasting work.
Noting that no Thai officials had been present, he accused the Thai government of neglecting the environmental damage that the Chinese were causing.
“This indicates that officials from Thailand’s central government aren’t interested in this issue. They allow the Chinese authorities to enter at will”, he said.
He observed that Thai soldiers along the border were unhappy with this neglect, as they received no advance warning from China.
“We have never supervised, inspected or helped in the decision-making of these Chinese officials who come into our country. It’s as if we allow China to come in and do whatever it wants. This is Thailand’s flaw. These rapids are currently undergoing an environmental impact assessment by the Thai authorities. China should respect this”, he said.
The Chinese government has long been planning to blast the Kai and Don Phee Lon rapids out of existence to make the Mekong navigable as far as Luang Phrabang in Laos.
But in March last year the Thai government ordered that the plans be put on hold pending an environmental impact assessment, fearing that the blasting works would damage the environment, adversely affect local lifestyles and chance the course of the river which marks the border between Laos and Thailand.
The 10-month assessment is due for completion in June.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch
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