Mekong River nations urged to drop 11 hydropower projects

VietNamNet Bridge – The Save the Mekong Coalition has written to the government leaders of the nations in the Mekong River basin to cancel 11 hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong mainstream, saying the dams could impact on the environment, natural recourses, aquatic life and ecological balance of the basin.

Mekong River, hydropower projects, Mekong Delta

“On the occasion of the 2nd Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit, the Save the Mekong Coalition writes to express our concern over the current state of the Mekong River due to the impact of existing and planned hydropower projects and the failure of regional cooperation in decision-making around hydropower on the Mekong mainstream,” says the letter.

“We believe that the current trajectory of dam building in the Mekong River Basin undermines the commitments and spirit of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, most critically the Principles of Cooperation, under which parties agree ‘to protect the environment, natural recourses, aquatic life…and ecological balance of the Mekong River Basin’.”

In the letter sent last Thursday to the prime ministers of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, the coalition said the 11 dams planned on the Lower Mekong mainstream are threatening to destroy the river’s rich environmental and economic productivity.

The letter quotes the MRC’s 2010 State of the Basin report as saying the mainstream dams “represent the single largest threat to wetlands, fisheries and local livelihoods of the Lower Mekong.”

The dams could undermine the abundance, productivity and diversity of fish resources in the Mekong as critical fish migration routes would be blocked, leading to a substantial loss to fish resources, said the Save the Mekong Coalition.

“If all 11 dams are built, the result would be an estimated 550,000-880,000 tons - equivalent to 26-42% - loss of fish resources. Fisheries experts have stated that there is currently no technology that exists to mitigate the impacts these dams would have to fisheries. Such losses would undermine food security and livelihoods throughout the basin.”

The coalition, which comprises around 55 environment and water source protection organizations worldwide, warned, “The hydrological and ecological changes caused by dams on the Mekong mainstream will irreversibly alter the river’s complex ecosystem, causing permanent loss of biodiversity and blocking the flow of nutrient-rich sediment to the delta.”

The dams would also affect riparian communities, disrupt their way of life, cultures, sense of community and food security, while around 40 million people in the Lower Mekong basin could take a hit from the projects. The impacts would be directly felt by more than 106,000 people, who face relocation and are likely to be forced into a life of greater poverty.

Over the past 20 years, over 3,200 MW of electricity output has been developed along the tributaries of the Mekong River. Meanwhile, experts have estimated hydropower potential of the river at around 30,000 MW.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the second MRC Summit in HCMC on Saturday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the Mekong River basin has never faced as many challenges as now. Accelerating demands for energy and food have piled greater pressure on the water resources and the biological environment of the area, he noted.

The Mekong River plays a pivotal role in socioeconomic development in Vietnam and food security in the region. In Vietnam, the Mekong Delta covers a total area of over 40,000 square kilometers, sheltering 20 million people and contributing 27% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), 90% of rice exports and 60% of seafood exports a year, Dung said.

Dung requested the nations in the Mekong River basin to observe the Mekong Agreement 1995 and regulations of the Mekong River Commission on use of water and natural resources. All the stakeholders should speed up studies on impacts of hydropower damming projects in the river mainstream.

The Vietnamese Government will announce results of a study on impacts of hydropower damming at the end of 2015, Dung added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the four nations should focus on common water use regulations as earlier committed. Cambodia is also ready for organizing the third MRC Summit in April 2018.

The basin of the Mekong River covers a total land area of 795,000 square kilometers from the east of the Tibetan Plateau to the Mekong Delta, sheltering 20,000 plants and 850 fish species.

Source: SGT

Mekong River, hydropower projects, Mekong Delta