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Mekong communities urged to organise emergency plans

A COMMUNITIES-LED emergency response plan is being advocated to cope with water hazards and dam disasters on the entire Mekong River Basin, as climate change magnifies the threats of water disasters posed by dams.

Local Thai people in seven northeastern provinces along Mekong River gathered in Bueng Kan yesterday for a public seminar on the impacts of dam projects in the river basin. They agreed that the recent widespread and destructive floods in the lower Mekong River Basin resulted from the combination of extreme precipitation and the adverse impacts of regional dams.
The participants concluded that investing in hydropower dams in the region was no longer a good development option, as more frequent and severe extreme weather caused by climate change would not only lower the efficiency of energy production, but also put the lives of millions people along Mekong River at high risk from dam disasters.
Montree Chantawong, the campaign director of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), noted that officials were blaming the extraordinarily strong monsoon and several storms as major factors in this year’s flood disaster in the Mekong River Basin. But, he said, the large volume of water discharged from many dams in the Mekong tributaries of both Laos and Thailand also significantly contributed to an escalation of the flood situation.
Montree said the abnormality in the Mekong River’s flow had historically been caused by unseasonal water discharges from Chinese dams on the upper part of the river, but this time he was sure that many dams on Mekong River’s tributaries in Laos were playing a major part. 

Mekong communities urged to organise emergency plans
This was because he noticed that although the river flow in Chiang Saen and Luang Phrabang was decreasing, the water level in Bueng Kan kept rising, which indicated that a large amount of water was entering Mekong River from tributaries in Laos and Thailand.
This year’s monsoon season has proved devastating, especially for countries in the Mekong River Basin. Between July and September, more than 1 million people in every province of Laos, six provinces in Cambodia and 23 provinces of Thailand suffered from severe floods, which caused more than 100 deaths and displaced nearly 50,000 people. 
“From the precipitation recorded during this monsoon season, we can see that rainfall was not spread evenly throughout the region. The eastern side of the Mekong River in Laos received intensive rain, while some areas on the western side of the river got very little rain,” he explained.
“Due to such a situation, almost every hydropower dam in Laos was quickly filled with a large influx of rain. 
“This forced these dams to release the excess water to the extent possible to prevent damage to the dam, and that contributed to widespread floods in the downstream area.”
He said the dams in Thailand were also part of the problem, noting that Nam Oun Dam in Sakon Nakhon province was discharging very large volumes into Songkram River, which is one of the major Mekong River tributaries in Thailand, and that had caused widespread floods in Nakhon Phanom province where Songkram joins Mekong. 

Mekong communities urged to organise emergency plans
Naris Arthan, the local representative from Bueng Kan, highlighted that this year’s serious flood in the Mekong River Basin and the saddle-dam failure at Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoi Dam in southern Laos, had proved that dam projects in the Basin will do more harm than good, especially as climate change is causing more extreme weather in the region.
“We cannot wait for the authorities to come out with emergency response plans for us, as more destructive disasters are causing greater dam failure risks on the entire Mekong River Basin. 
The local people throughout the region have to work together to come out with our own disaster response plans for each locality,” Naris stressed.
“The tragic lesson from the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoi Dam is that at the least we have to map out where the disaster risk areas are, and the safe areas, and create a basin-wide citizen disaster warning network in order to save people’s lives in the event of a disaster.”

Published : October 02, 2018

By : Pratch Rujivanarom The Nation Bueng Kan