builders have suggested that poverty can be banished by
the exploitation of hydroelectricity, and recently the
potential of hydropower has charmed government seeking
to reduce the cost of high energy price in order to fuel
the economy growth of their respective countries.
This development and social
difficulties for the downstream countries of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia
and Vietnam, and imposed sever ecological deterioration of the Mekong River.
Downstream countries will
have to bear a huge burden, and they must mobilize large amount of their
development funds and other resources to mitigate the adverse effects of the
dams, and to protect themselves and to try and restore the damage to their
agriculture, fisheries, forests, and way of life.
There have been reports of
earlier negative impacts of the Lancang hydropower dams; however, the countries
to suffer most severely are Cambodia and Vietnam, especially the impact on
social and environmental conditions. Particularly at risk for Cambodia is the
The statistics show that
Cambodiaï¿½s Great Lake, or Tonele Sap, accounts for about 400,000 tons or 40
percent of the annual yield of Mekong fisheries, which are estimated at about
one million tons.
During the rainy season the
Mekong River swells to inundate vast areas of the Cambodia flood plain,
including the Great Lake. This situation is welcoming to spawning and feeding
habitat for hundred of fish species.
But now that the dams have
been built to regulate the natural flow of the Mekong River, they greatly reduce
the flooding and severely cut back the production of downstream fisheries.
Part of the Mekong River is
in crisis, with diminishing flows triggering declining fish yield. The fishermen
in Cambodia tell the same story. Their catches had never been so poor, and their
all blame the low level of the river flow that began in more recent years.
What is worse now is that
the price of fish is three times higher that it used to be, with the catches at
such a low level. This has had a dreadful effect on poor Cambodian people.
As for the Great Lake, a
nightmare scenario would be for the flood to subside so much that the Tonele Sap
stops reversing its flow during the monsoon season. That would dry up the
riverï¿½s major nursery for fish. Given that traditional food intake that Cambodia
relies on is fish stocks, our people are the ones that feel threatened on the
For years dam builders have
suggested that poverty can be banished by the exploitation of hydroelectricity,
and recently the potential of hydropower has charmed government seeking to
reduce the cost of high energy price in order to fuel the economy growth of
their respective countries.
However, this rush for
hydropower, it at all, must not be based on ill-thought out and poorly
coordinated plans across the Mekong basin, stretching from Tibet in China
through Yunnan province to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Accurate assessment of the impact of these dams are difficult, but they must be
People in the Mekong
region, especially in the lowermost downstream countries such as Cambodia and
Vietnam, are especially vulnerable to floods. Drought is even more menacing as
it can occur over long period of time, which ultimately produces more upsetting
results including the long term inability of a country to feed itself.
Due to their massive size
and huge storage capacity when realized, the dams will be a threat to the
livelihoods and can seriously jeopardize the whole environment due to landslide,
deforestation, and degradation of the overall ecosystem of the Mekong River.
The dangerous effects to
the ecosystem can be accounted by the blockage of upstream sediments and
nutrients trapped in reservoirs, and by the regulated outflow of water
controlled by hydropower dams.
These will cause harmful
ecological simplification of the natural conditions of the river. The cumulative
impact on the environment by the massive lost of biodiversity will be immense,
causing the lost of essential sources of food for millions of people and taking
away an important source of income from them.
There have been concerns
over large hydro-power dams on the Mekong River and growing fears that among the
development partner, public and private stakeholders are not being properly
consulted and that the cumulative impacts of dams on fisheries and food security
are not being given adequate attention.
Under these circumstances,
mutual and transparent collaboration of development efforts through the Mekong
River Commission, Greater Mekong Sub-region, ASEAN and other initiatives in the
development of the Mekong River Basin, and in particular the cooperation with
China and Myanmar, is deemed essential in the search for effective measures to
mitigate the impact of natural disasters and bring about grater prosperity to
The regional perspective on
the Mekong can ensure that decisions leading to development of hydropower are
reflective of everyoneï¿½s interests and the vision for an economically
prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong Basin will indeed
promote regional security and prosperity.
Governments are easily
seduced by the prospect of abundant energy sources, but if this is acquired at
the expenses of social and environment condition, the next generation will have
to bear the consequences. Also Read:
Prek Tnout Project
This article appeared in the Cambodia Daily
Opinion Section Weekly Edition, May 9-10, 2009.
About the author:
Pou Sothirak is a visiting Senior Fellow at the
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.