Act now to save Mekong

Act now to save Mekong

This picture taken on May 31, 2016 shows workers gathering pebbles at a sand excavation site along the Mekong River in Vientiane. Grain by grain, truckload by truckload, Laos' section of the Mekong river is being dredged of sand to make cement -- a commodity being devoured by a Chinese-led building boom in the capital. But the hollowing out of the riverbed is also damaging a vital waterway that feeds hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the poverty-stricken nation. (Photo: AFP)
This picture taken on May 31, 2016 shows workers gathering pebbles at a sand excavation site along the Mekong River in Vientiane. Grain by grain, truckload by truckload, Laos' section of the Mekong river is being dredged of sand to make cement -- a commodity being devoured by a Chinese-led building boom in the capital. But the hollowing out of the riverbed is also damaging a vital waterway that feeds hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the poverty-stricken nation. (Photo: AFP)

Last week, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) released two reports which once again highlighted the existential threats to the Mekong River.

The reports, titled "Status and Trends of Fish Abundance and Diversity in the Lower Mekong Basin during 2007-2018" (FADM) and "Social Impact Monitoring and Vulnerability Assessment 2018" (SIMVA), were the first comprehensive environmental and social impact studies on the river released by the MRC, an intergovernmental organisation which was established in 1995 to promote regional cooperation along the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). While in the past, the MRC was widely perceived as a toothless body, it has recently become more vocal in its critique of various development projects along the river.

The FADM, which was based on data collected from 25 water stations in four countries between 2007 and 2018, found that most communities which rely on fishing along the LMB have reported a decline in catches. In Laos and Vietnam, the study found, catch rates have declined at two out of four and three of five stations surveyed, respectively.

Meanwhile, SIMVA found that floods have become more frequent along the river, which the report said were caused by a combination of climate change and other factors, including infrastructure development. Noteworthy was the fact that 80% of natural disasters reported along the LMB -- which include floods and landslides -- occurred in Thai territory.

After the reports' release, MRC urged states to come up with an "integrated river management plans to address risks from increasing hydropower development".

The warning reflects the lack of collective action to address the threat to the Mekong River that is the damming of its course. Over the past decade, China has completed 11 projects, with one still under construction. More dams are planned along the Mekong's lower reaches, with two dams set to be built in Laos -- the electricity from which will be sold to Thailand.

Indeed, development along the Mekong has been done in a laissez-faire manner, with nations claiming sovereignty to justify projects despite repeated complaints from affected communities about the environmental impact. As such, the reports were released at a perfect time, just a week before the Asean Summit and COP26 in Glasgow.

While Asean is currently dealing with the situation in Myanmar, as well as being in the middle of a geopolitical spat between superpowers, it should take the chance to rise to the occasion. Since August, the bloc has collaborated with the MRC to launch the Water Security Dialogue, a platform through which riparian countries and other nations can share their knowledge of water management -- the lessons from which can be used to protect the Mekong. The reports can be a catalyst for Asean to establish joint water management among riparian countries, with both the MRC and Asean as the focal point. States have been allowed to exploit the river for so long and the river needs a reliable regional mechanism -- with civil society in the centre -- to survive.

At COP26 in Glasgow, it is hoped governments and international organisations will begin to seriously address problems surrounding hydroelectric dams. While hydroelectric dams can help reduce global emissions, MRC's reports showed a different picture which show how clean energy development also come with environmental risks. The world needs better oversight to deal with environment and social risks associated with renewable energy projects.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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