China urged to listen to Mekong villagers
CHIANG RAI - Chiang Khong villagers have urged China and states close to the Mekong River to listen to the opinions of locals before making development plans for the trans-boundary river.
The villagers, who live along the river, expressed particular concern about the construction of a dam in the upper part of the river and the dredging of the river to allow for big cargo ships.
They made the statement to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams which falls today.
Somkiat Khuanchiangsa, coordinator for the Mekong-Lanna Culture and Natural Resources Group based in Chiang Rai, urged the Thai government to address the agenda of national water management for both internal and international water resources by listening to the voices of local communities.
The government must show it is prepared to achieve the sustainable development of the Mekong River, he said.
The Mekong has been under threat for the past 20 years from dam building and local people have been denied access to information about them, said Niwat Roikaew, a core leader of a network of people living in eight provinces along the river.
Mr Niwat said locals have experienced unusual tides and water fluctuations since the Manwan dam, the first dam on the upstream Mekong in Yunnan province of China, started operation in 1996. More than 50 species of fish have disappeared since the dam was launched.
Several studies also found the water level drops in the rainy season and increases in the dry season after the operation of the dams, he added.
Five dams in China are currently in use, and another eight are under consideration or in the construction stages.
The water level this dry season has been unusual for people in provinces that share a border with the Mekong.
Between March 5 and March 8, the water level rose from 1.34 to 2.61 metres then dropped to 2.34 metres on Thursday despite no rainfall, which is unusual for the dry season as the water level should gradually fall from December to April.
Mr Niwat said villagers wonder if the water in the river is in fact being controlled and they are concerned that it will get worse if more dams are built.
The launch of the Xayaburi dam's construction in 2012 heightened concern among villagers. It is one of 12 proposed hydropower projects — 10 in Laos and two in Cambodia — in the lower Mekong region.
Don Sahong dam in Laos' Pakse province is at the prior consultation process stage.
The Mekong has a number of developments along it that are damaging the river including the use of heavy chemicals in plantations, construction on wetland zones and blasting to dredge the river for big cargo ships.
Talks will be held today with academics, activists and politicians in Chiang Khong.