Experts Say Mekong Hydropower Dams Disastrous

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Originally published in The Saigon Times

CAN THO – Local experts yesterday raised their concerns about the construction of 12 hydropower dams along the Mekong River's lower mainstream, saying that the projects would hurt ecosystems and affect food security of millions of people in the Mekong Delta region, especially Vietnamese.

Speaking at a seminar in Can Tho yesterday, Duong Van Ni, director of Hoa An Biodiversity Research and Experimental Center under Can Tho City, said that cultivation and aquaculture in the delta relied on the river while Vietnam provided the world market with seven million tons of rice and one million tons of Tra fish each year. "What will happen if the delta lacks water or water quality turns bad" Ni said.

Le Anh Tuan from the Climate Change Institute said alluvium and floods are part of the ecosystem and factors that form the Mekong River.

Tuan mentioned Man Wan Dam that China completed on the upstream of the river in 1993 without consulting any of the downstream countries. As a result, alluvium in My Thuan declined by 30% and in Can Tho by 40% in 2000.

Nguyen Huu Thien, an agronomist and wetlands specialist, said there would be 14,000 more megawatts of electricity if the 12 dams are completed, of which Laos will take 70%, Thailand and Cambodia 11% and 12% respectively, and Vietnam 5%. However, there will be long-term impacts on the economy, environment, culture and society in the downstream. Vietnam will lose around US$1 billion worth of freshwater fish yearly from the delta.

Dao Trong Tu, director of Center of Sustainable Water Resources Development and Adaptation to Climate Change, said only China benefited from the dam projects since it was in the upstream while Vietnam would get nothing for its food, energy security and economic development. "It is necessary to boost the role of the Mekong River Commission to reach agreement for the matter and make discussions at regional and international forums," Tu said.

The projects also drew objections from many international organizations and countries. World Bank and Asian Development Bank initially refused to finance the projects while the U.S. also called for a delay in dam constructions late last year.

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