Activists representing Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam yesterday urged their respective governments to consider the lives of people living around the Mekong River when building infrastructure projects.
Some of the activists urged governments to increase impact assessment initiatives, while others called for the suspension of all ongoing hydropower dam projects.
The push was made during a Mekong public forum in Phnom Penh. About 200 researchers, members of civil society organisations and government officials from the three Mekong River countries attended the forum.
Kong Chanthy, a local community representative from Stung Treng province, said the construction of hydropower dams in China, Laos and Thailand has made people living downstream lose access to natural resources, such as fish. Mr Chanthy also said that the construction of the dams has affected biodiversity.
“We are concerned about the decline of fish and other resources, the change in water flow makes it hard to irrigate our farms,” Mr Chanthy said. “The construction also has a negative impact on flooded forests in the region, and it also caused the decline of biodiversity in the Mekong River.”
“We would like to ask all Mekong River country governments to please make clear impact assessments with the participation of residents before constructing hydropower dams,” he added. “And for heavily impacted areas, please suspend construction because the construction of hydropower dams impact the lives of millions of people who depend on the river.”
Trung Tin Nguyen, a community representative from Vietnam, said hydropower dams drastically changes water flow, and that its impact is mostly felt by people living near the river’s lower parts because they depend on fish and other resources provided by the river.
He said it could also force people to migrate to cities in order to find a job.
“We still have many other options to harness hydropower, aside from constructing dams,” Mr Nguyen said. “These other options are more sustainable and reduce the negative impact to those living in the Mekong River region.”
Touch Bunthan, acting president of the Fisheries Administration’s Biodiversity of Fresh Water Fisheries Research and Development Institute, dismissed the notion that the construction of hydropower dams alone causes changes to the river.
Mr Bunthan said there are climate change and other factors.
“So, this is a common issue. As for the solution, we are working in accordance with the realities on the ground in each [country],” he said.
Nhu Doung Hai, stakeholder engagement specialist with the Mekong River Commission’s secretariat, yesterday said the MRC has studied challenges in detail, provided relevant comments and provided information to member countries, adding that it’s up to each government to make a decision on the impact of hydropower dams.
Biju Abraham, acting director of Oxfam in Cambodia, yesterday said the MRC has identified that hydropower dam construction projects along the Mekong River and its tributaries have impacted the ecosystem, food safety, and the economy of the people in the region.
“The study also provided recommendations for the governments […] to consider new energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, as an alternative instead of hydropower dams that affect the Mekong River,” Mr Abraham said.
He noted that China has built seven hydropower dams on the upper Mekong River and plans to build 21 more, while downstream countries are planning to build 11 hydropower dams.
“The construction of the hydropower dam is a serious threat to the Mekong River,” Mr Abraham said. “The Mekong River is a place or shelter with about 60 million people living and depending on it.”