Mekong Utility Watch

Environmentalists worried over impact of Mekong damning

Usa Pichai
April 27, 2009

Environmentalists have warned that the damning of Mekong Rivers will have a significant trans boundary impact on countries which share this river, including Burma but accessing information on the issue in Burma is limited.

Montree Chantawong, a Thai environmentalist from the Bangkok-based environment organization, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra) said in a conference on Friday that the damning of projects on the Mekong River in China has destroyed the natural resources of the river and caused a decrease in fish and water plants that affect local livelihood, fluctuating water current and would also create conflicts between states and people along the river bank in six countries, according to a case study of Ban Koum Hydropower dam on Mekong mainstream, Lao and Thailand border.

Chantawong also said that the impact of the upstream in China and Burma might have similar impacts but that accessing information is more difficult.

“The damning will only benefit politicians, investors and financial institutions. The claims about electricity generation are fake,” he said.

The six countries that share Mekong River are China, Burma, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam.

However, early this month the Lahu National Development Organization (LNDO) released a report “Undercurrents – Monitoring Development Along Burma’s Mekong”, which confirmed that the impact of the Chinese damning project has not been documented clearly. “China continues to construct a series of giant dams on the mainstream Mekong while downstream communities anxiously question what will befall them. Unprecedented floods in August 2008 damaged thousands of acres of paddy farms.”

The Mekong river bank in Burmese territory is habitat to over 22,000 primarily indigenous people living in the mountainous region of this isolated stretch of the river. The main ethnic groups are Akha, Shan, Lahu, Sam Tao (Loi La), Chinese, and En. The Mekong River has a special significance for the Lahu people, who, like the Chinese, call it the Lancang.

Chantawong’s presentation is a part of Asia and Pacific Regional Health Impact Assessment Conference in Chiang Mai held from 22 – 24 April, 2009 which aimed at promoting Health Impact Assessment (HIA) mechanism as a core part of public development projects of all governments’ agencies.

The representatives from Asia Pacific regions have presented case studies from their countries about the impact on people’s health and livelihood from development projects, particularly the government’s mega projects or policies.

“All policies should take the health of people into consideration and be accountable to impacts that might occur on people’s health. Any policy and programme formulated must take health issues into account by conducting HIA,” according to a press statement from the conference where representatives from 20 countries attended.

The participant also announced the “Chiang Mai Declaration” which focus that every stakeholder of development projects need to realize the importance of people’s health. In addition, they urged ASEAN to treat the issue of HIA as regional mechanism. Given its function as an official coordinating body in an international community, “ASEAN is the appropriate forum to take the lead because the organizational structure of ASEAN has already set up the Secretariat body and the National Secretariat bodies,” the group noted.

In addition the statement also calls on international financial institutions, i.e., the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank to agree to have HIA as criteria for financing projects. Therefore projects financed by Equator Principles adopted international financial institutions are ensured to carry out their implementation properly. It promises to promote the efficient HIA with principles of public participation and people’s empowerment.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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