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Asean Affairs  28  February 2011

Threats to the Mekong rise

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     28 February 2011

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A recent report from Vietnam that brackish water is making its way into the Mekong Delta earlier than usual again underlines the serious threats to the ecology of the Mekong River that continue to be reported.

The brackish water threatens the freshwater supplies in the delta and destroys the fertility of land used to grow rice. The water is vital to the 18 million people living there and the rice harvests are vital to Vietnam’s food security and economy as rice is a major export. The annual floods deposit fresh alluvial soil in the delta at the rate of 26 million tons a year but that will drop to just 7 million tons a year

Rising in the Himalayas, the Mekong flows through China and Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and into the sea in Vietnam. About 65 million people live along the banks of the river. Many sustain themselves through fishing. The river is home to about 540 fish species, including the giant catfish, one of the world largest freshwater fish and the Mekong dolphin. Both of these fish are presently endangered. If all the dams were built, the loss to the fisheries industry could amount to US$476 million per year.

Eight dams are planned for the upper reaches of Mekong in Yunnan province and four of them have already been completed. One of them is the world’s tallest at Xiaowan. Laos, Thailand and Cambodia plan to build 12 dams on the lower Mekong with the first planned for Xayabury. Building of this dam

A recent environmental assessment by independent international experts states that these will create a total income of US$3-4 billion per year but the distribution of profits will not be equal among the investing countries. Laos will enjoy 70 percent of the profits while Thailand and Cambodia will only get 11 percent each, and Vietnam, if it invests in these projects, 5 percent.

Tran Van Tuan, an official from the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat, said: “The building of a dam on the mainstream will cause a degeneration of river water, leading to a reduction of fish output in the Mekong Delta.” However, the MRC serves as only an advisory board and cannot dictate policy.

Truong Hong Tien, an expert from the standing office of the Vietnam National Mekong River Committee, said the 12 hydropower projects will together meet just 6 percent of the total demand for power in the countries while retaining as much as 75 percent of the alluvium. Laos, however, sees the dams as away to increase its economy and create jobs. Laos id the poorest member country of Asean.

The fate of the Mekong is going to be a major issue among and between the continental Asean countries.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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