CHINA should apologise to people hit hard by their dams and compensate them for losses caused by changes in the river’s ecology, the Thai People in Eight Mekong Provinces Network said yesterday.
The group called on China and leaders of Mekong basin countries to accept that Chinese dams have caused problems and to set up a new mechanism, with public participation, to manage the Mekong River.
The call came as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha attended the First Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting at Sanya in China with the heads of Mekong River countries. This is a new China-led governmental cooperation agency for the Mekong basin, which has the principle of “Shared River, Shared Future”.
Montree Chantawong from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery said at the press conference in Bangkok that the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation leaders’ meeting was just an economic forum – and demanded that governments of Mekong basin countries really take an interest in the prolonged problems caused by Chinese dams for people in downstream countries.
“Our government and officials from the other five Mekong nations need to accept there are problems from the upstream dams. They have to listen to the people’s voices and allow public participation in the Mekong River management,” Montree said.
“We also want to urge China to minimise the impacts from their dams, apologise for their action to change the river ecology and remedy the affected people who have suffered from the effects of Chinese dams for more than 20 years.”
He emphasised that negative impacts felt by people downstream were caused by Chinese dams. The river flow record from the hydrological station in Chiang Saen district in Chiang Rai showed that since the first dam on the Mekong, the Manwan Dam, was completed in 1993, the flow of the river had changed unnaturally and very rapidly.
“The water flow in the Mekong River usually rose up gently and dried according to the season and amount of rainfall. But since the upstream dams began operating the water level increases and decreases quickly, so it can be seen that the water level graph is very steep,” he said.
“The change in the flow of the Mekong has damaged people’s livelihoods, culture and the river ecology. And there is no one paying attention to these problems and helping people.”
Jirasak Inthayot, coordinator of the Chiang Kong Mekong School of Local Knowledge, said that “cooperation” under the Mekong River Commission (MRC) was largely ineffective in ensuring that there was just management of the river, because it lacked public involvement.
Jirasak said people had suffered from the impact of the dams for a very long time, but the MRC failed to protect them. Moreover, representatives from Mekong River countries who participate in the MRC included officials who do not care about local people’s interests. The MRC also did not have any mechanism to allow public participation.
Ombun Thipsuna, from the Seven Northeastern Mekong Provinces Network, said the Mekong was an international river, so all countries needed to work together on water management, by allowing affected people to take part in such discussions.