News / 4 April 2014

Conference Mekong River fails to stop construction dams

With an estimated  length of 4350 kilometers, the Mekong River is the seventh longest river in Asia. The Mekong basin also boasts the second highest level of biodiversity of any river system in the world, behind the Amazon. The richness of plants and animals in the basin has not even been fully discovered and described yet. The question, however, is whether this wealth can be sustained. The management of the river is in the hands of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). This commission includes representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Netherlands supports the MRC and Dutch consultants are doing work commissioned by the MRC.

Once every four years, the MRC gathers regional leaders to discuss the most pressing issues. The most recent summit took place from 2 to 5 April in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. For Both ENDS, Pieter Jansen is working with local organizations in Asia to improve water management of the river.

What are the concerns about the developments in the Mekong region?

"The MRC is the secretariat that oversees the treaty between the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam about the management of the Mekong. However, the MRC does not have the power to enforce adherence to the agreements in the treaty. One of these agreements determines that countries consult each other about the construction of dams on the river. "


Do these consultations work?

"Well no, the MRC conference took place in an atmosphere of disagreement on the construction of several dams in the river. In 2011, Laos started the construction of the Xayaburi dam without informing other states. In addition, a decision on the construction of the Don Sahong dam on the border of Laos and Cambodia does not seem to be reversible. Also, dams are being built in the Sesan river, an important tributary of the Mekong. This happens even though the MRC secretariat has stated that more research was needed on the ecological consequences of the dams on the river basin. Furthermore, there is a lot of protest against the construction of these dams.”


How is Both ENDS involved in this?

"Both ENDS is one of the partners of the Save the Mekong alliance. The Dutch government is involved in the situation and of course we want the money the government spends on the Mekong to have a positive influence on the preservation of the richness of the river. The Save the Mekong alliance has sent a letter to the four countries in which it stated that the MRC fails in its task of monitoring the treaty. Save the Mekong opposes the construction of big dams in the river because they are harmful to ecology and the local fishing industry. "


Have the parties made progress during the recent conference?

“Both ENDS and Save the Mekong are disappointed with the outcome of the MRC meeting. During the conference, Vietnam and Cambodia urged Laos urged to do more research on the harmful effects of the dams  it is building in the Mekong. Earlier, Laos started with the construction of the dams without awaiting the results of ongoing research into the ecological consequences and it can still opt to continue along these same lines. Laos says it will will look at the consequences and take into account the impact of these dams on its neighbours. The MRC has not decided to put the construction of the dams on hold  pending the outcome of further investigation."


What consequences do you foresee?

"This may eventually lead to a serious regional conflict over the distribution of water between the countries. The consequences for the ecology in the region will be enormous. Dams on the Mekong are expected to have a  major impact on the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonlé Sap in Cambodia. They will also have an impact on rice production in the Mekong Delta, which is the largest production area in the region."


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