Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mekong citizens appeal to Thai PM against construction of dams

by Usa Picha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima news) - Citizens of six countries which share the Mekong River on Thursday submitted a petition with 16,000 signatures to Thailand’s Prime Minister to save the Mekong River.

‘The Save the Mekong coalition’, a civil environmental society concerned about the Mekong River released a press statement on Thursday saying that the group is to hand in a petition, endorsed by more than 16,000 people from the six-countries of the Mekong region and around the world, who have signed a “Save Mekong” petition urging governments to abandon plans for hydropower development along the river’s mainstream.

The six countries that share the Mekong River are China, Lao, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.

The statement noted that most postcard signatories wrote personal messages to the region’s leaders such as “Don’t let hydropower dams block our children's future!” said Wang Dezhi from Yunnan, China.

“Don’t build the Mekong dams. The existing dams in Thailand already make brothers and sisters fight against each other!” Mak Vangdokmai, Roi et, from Thailand wrote. “Saving us, saving our resources! Electricity is not everything!” Nguyen Thanh Hang, Hanoi, from Vietnam wrote in the petition.

Over the past few months, citizen groups have organized a number of events to the run-up to this week’s Save the Mekong launch, to rally public support for the river including a photo exhibition, environment workshops and events.

Mekong fisheries provide a critical source of food and income for millions of people along the river. Recent official estimates place the annual value of the river’s wild capture fisheries to be worth up to US$3 billion, the statement said.

It further added that mainstream dams will block the massive fish migration that account for up to 70 per cent of the river’s commercial fish catch which ensure regional food security. Experience around the world demonstrates that there is no way to mitigate the fisheries impact of such large dams.

“China’s dam construction on the Upper Mekong mainstream (Lancang) has already caused serious environmental problems, in the form of declining fish stocks, riverbank erosion, and hazardous water level fluctuations in downstream Burma, northern Thailand and northern Lao PDR,” the group said in the statement.

“The Save the Mekong coalition and those that signed the petition are very concerned that similarly severe cross-border impacts could create cross-border disputes,” the group added.

The petition has been written in seven languages by fishermen and farmers living along the river’s mainstream and tributaries, as well as by monks, students, city-folk and even some of the region’s well-known celebrities, and will be submitted to Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok, and sent to other government leaders in the region.

Civil society groups in the Mekong region and internationally have been sounding the alarm about plans to build 11 hydro dams on the Lower Mekong mainstream for many years, in what is often described as an uphill battle.

The group concluded that the largely donor-backed inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, meanwhile, has failed to disclose its assessment of the Don Sahong dam, prepared in 2007, despite repeated requests from civil society groups, and is now positioning itself as a “facilitator” among the region’s hydro developers. The MRC has skirted some of the most critical issues, including ensuring transparency and public participation, and protecting regional food security.

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