SCHOLARS AND environmental conservationists from Thailand and Vietnam called for better and effective management of the Mekong River as Southeast Asia’s longest river was in danger due to climate change and development projects, notably hydropower dams in its mainstream.
No single government is able to take care of the Mekong, which is an international river running through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, said Nguyen Truong Giang from Vietnam’s Diplomatic Academy. Giang and Thai and Vietnamese scholars and conservationists gathered for a seminar entitled “Promoting Cooperation in Sustainable Use of the Mekong River” hosted by Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University on Tuesday.
International law expert Giang (above) said the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which gave birth to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and regulations for the river, is not sufficient to handle the situation.
While the Mekong runs through six countries, only countries in the lower part of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are members of the MRC.
“We want to have the MRC as an inter-governmental body to coordinate a master plan for the international river management, which must include countries in the upper part – China and Myanmar”, Giang told the seminar.
China is needed to be an active part of the MRC since the country shares 16 per cent of the total length of 4,880 kilometres of the Mekong, has built seven hydropower dams in the river’s mainstream, plans to build more as well as blasts rapids, rocks and islets in the river to clear navigation routes in the river.
Apart from climate change, which has caused rising sea levels, the construction of infrastructure in the Mekong River is another major challenge for the delta in southern Vietnam, said Nguyen Thi Hong Van, Coordinator of Vietnam River Network (below). Hydropower dams upstream cause impacts on the delta due to fluctuations in water flow, blocking migration of fish, reducing sediment load, and saline intrusion into farm lands, she said.
“The infrastructure development would increase the risk of future conflict in the region, not only among the countries but also in the economic sectors and ecological values,” Van said.
People in the Mekong region need to be well aware of the transboundary impacts of development projects in the river on their livelihood, said Withoon Permpongsacharoen, director of Energy Network for Ecology in the Mekong Basin.
Energy generated by hydropower dams is not cheap as widely understood since it is built at the expense of environmental damage, and impacts people’s lives, he said.
Rock blasting to clear navigation channels in the Mekong River not only damages the river’s ecosystem, but also the livelihood of Thai and Lao people along the river, said leader of Love Chiang Khong Group Somkiat Khuanchiangsa.
China cleared the stretch at the Golden Triangle more than 10 years ago, enabling convenient and safe navigation from Simao Port in Yunnan province to Thailand. It wants to facilitate the passage of bigger vessels along the river to at least Luang Prabang in Laos. There is the need to clear rapids and rocks underwater between Laos’ Huay Xay to Luang Prabang. Some parts of this portion border Thailand and Laos and the clearance would affect the boundary between the two countries, Somkiat said.
Local residents and environmental conservationists in Thailand urged the Thai government to review its decision since blasting rocks and islands to clear the waterway would affect their livelihood and environment.