Mekong Utility Watch

Chinese dams accused of flooding the region

(November 14, 2008) Many of the 300 representatives at a recent forum in Bangkok have blamed Chinese authorities for releasing water from three hydropower dams on the Mekong River in August, which devastated hundreds of communities downstream.

The accusations were aired at a forum titled “Mekong Mainstream Dams: Voices across Borders,” which was held at Chulalongkorn University in the Thai capital from November 12-13. Most of the 300 community leaders, environmentalists and activists attending the meeting were from the six nations comprising the Greater Mekong Subregion—China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The two-day forum focused on the devastation and loss of lives and livelihoods following floods in the subregion in August.

Witoon Permpongsachareon, a coordinator with the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that many representatives at the forum pointed fingers at China’s hydropower Mekong River dams—Manwan, Dachaoshan and Jinghong—which released billions of tons of water as a safety measure in May after Sichuan Province in western China was hit by an earthquake. The resulting floods destroyed thousands of homes, farms and livelihoods in Mekong River communities downstream and affected millions of people.

“The representatives are annoyed with the Chinese government and they send strong messages to the government to respect other people’s rights,” he said.

According to a report in Fridays’ The Bangkok Post, a former headmaster at Chiang Khong School in Chiang Rai Province, northern Thailand, accused the Chinese of causing the heaviest floods in the area for 40 years.

“At least three districts [in northern Thailand] have yet to recoup the financial loss of 85 million baht (US $2.4 million)” said the headmaster. “Not to mention the heartbreak of being fooled by authorities that dams help prevent flooding, serve agriculture and produce electricity.”

However, a chief executive officer from the Mekong River Commission (MRC) claimed that the Chinese dams were not responsible for the regional flooding and blamed the Laotian authorities.

The representatives at the forum also spoke about the impact of dams on the natural ecosystem in the river. Many fish are unable to travel to feed or spawn because the dams block the river. Fish production in the Mekong is decreasing every year and more dams are being built in China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, according to the Mekong River Commission Fisheries Program.

According to data from the commission, the Mekong River is the world’s largest inland fishery with some 1.5 to 3 million tonnes of fish products per year.

Speaker after speaker at the seminar urged the six countries’ governments to reduce their reliance on electrical power.

Over the next few years, Laos is planning to construct at least seven dams, with a total electricity generating capacity of 7,470 megawatts, while another two Thai-Lao projects will produce a total of 3,409 megawatts. Cambodia, too, has released plans for two hydropower dams—at Stung Treng and Sambor.

Lawi Weng, The Irrawaddy, November 14, 2008

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