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Lesson from Thailand with Mekong dams (23/03/2011)
lesson from thailand with mekong dams
Lesson from Thailand with Mekong dams

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on March 3 warned investors in dam construction projects in the Mekong River to learn the lesson from the dam on Mun River in Thailand, a failure in terms of economic, environmental and social impacts.

     The Thai Government is considering permanently opening the doors of the Mun River dam in the hope to resume the ecological system in the Mun River, a branch of the Mekong River.

     Mun River originates from the Khao Yai National Park, Thailand’s largest and oldest nature reserve. It meets the Mekong River in Ubon Ratthatchani province in northeastern Thailand.

     The Mun River dam was built in the 1990s. The construction cost of the dam exceeded the scheduled budget while the dam caused a fall of seafood output from the river. Local people had to migrate while investors didn’t benefit from the project.

     The above results may happen for Xayaburi, the dam that Laos wants to build in the major flow of the Mekong River. According to WWF, the lives of tens of millions of people in this region are being threatened.

     “The Mekong is a unique and particularly complex ecosystem that hosts the most productive inland fisheries in the world and is second only to the Amazon in number of fish species. The lessons of Thailand’s Mun River dam are still fresh: Hasty environmental and social impact studies can lead to a bitter lose-lose situation for both fishermen and dam owners,” said Dr. Suphasuk Pradubsuk, National Policy Coordinator with WWF-Thailand.

     At $233 million, the Mun River dam cost investors twice the original estimate, and energy production fell to a third of expected capacity during the dry season. Return on investment dropped from a projected 12 percent to 5 percent.

    “All promoters of hydropower in the Mekong must learn the lessons of the Mun River dam. Current limited baseline studies do not sufficiently explain how the different parts of the ecosystem interact, so we can’t accurately predict the effects of any mainstream dam. The stakes are very high for people and nature, and therefore for investors as well,” said Dr. Suphasuk Pradubsuk.

     The Xayaburi dam in Laos, the first to be proposed on the lower Mekong mainstream, is just ending the “consultation” phase stipulated under the procedures of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). This is meant to ensure a rigorous and transparent scientific assessment of the impact of the dam. However, the just-released Xayaburi feasibility study gives no indication that any of the Mun River dam lessons have been learned, WWF noted.

     “The study blandly assures us that impacts of the Xayaburi dam would be low level without providing anything much to justify this optimism. Dam proponents were equally bland about impacts on the Mun River too, but there was economic and environmental disaster lurking in what was ignored and what was only superficially considered,” said Phansiri Winichagoon, WWF-Thailand Country Director.

     WWF supports a 10-year delay in the approval of all lower Mekong mainstream dams to ensure a comprehensive understanding of all the impacts of their construction and operation.

     To cope with drought and salt water intrusion, farmers in the Mekong delta should store water in the dry season to irrigate their rice fields. Besides this, it is necessary to establish a centre for fish research to preserve different species of fish in the long run.

     Nguyen Huu Thien, an agronomist and wetlands specialist: Don't build the dam.

     The best thing would be not to build 12 dams on the Mekong River. It would be difficult to find any adaptable measures if they were built, and the delta might have to pay an expensive price for this. For instance, the paths of migrating fish would be blocked, spelling out a disaster in terms of food security. There are measures we can take to mitigate these losses. If alluvium levels drop, then we can use more fertilisers to maintain productivity, but this is only a short term solution.

     Once built, dams on the Mekong River would cause a vast loss of land, adversely impacting on the life of tens of million of people. It would be difficult to compensate that loss and even more so among neighbouring countries - Source: VNS

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