Academics in bid to stop Mekong plan

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Article from The Nation, Bangkok’s Independent Newspaper

The prime minister’s idea to push ahead with the Mekong River water-diversion project and to build three hydro-electric dams in the Northeast region has caused concern among social science academics who yesterday came up with a statement opposing the plan.

In an open letter to the prime minister, 18 academics together with 95 environmental and community organisations demanded the government suspend any agreement related to the issue it has signed with the Laos government unless information about the projects is disclosed and public opinion is gathered.

The academics also called for feasibility studies on all water diversions and dam construction projects.

“The utilisation of Mekong River must be in line with sustainable development for the sake of the people in all downstream countries, not only for the sake of Thailand,” said the letter.

In his weekly television show “Talk Samak Style” last Sunday, premier Samak Sundaravej said he had decided to push ahead with the controversial plan in which water from the Mekong in Laos would be diverted to Loei province and then stored in the Ubonrattana Dam in Khon Kaen province. Three dams would be constructed in Loei, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani.

Samak said an agreement between Thailand and Laos had been signed.

The premier said it should not be a big problem for downstream countries to utilise the international river as China had already built several dams to block the river upstream.

Prapas Pintobtaeng, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, said the government should learn from the negative consequences of China’s dam construction on Thai communities and not repeat it.

“Villagers in Chiang Rai, whose lives depend on the Mekong, almost lost their livelihood as water levels in the river have fluctuated as a result of the dams in China,” he said.

Initiated by the state for more than a decade, the Mekong water-diversion project has faced strong opposition from environmentalists and society due to its potential to cause damage to fish-stocks in the river and the livelihood of those who depend on it.

Once in power, almost every government has asked related state agencies to both review and seek ways to push ahead with the project. However, no government, except the Samak administration, has decided to carry it through. When he became prime minister in February, Samak immediately announced he would proceed with project to divert water for the agriculture sector.