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BEGINNING OR THE END?
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AseanAffairs Magazine March - April 2011
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The Mekong Giant Catfish is one of the endangered species that Mekong dams may make extinct.

The proposed Xayaburi dam is to be located 150 kilometers downstream from Luang Prabang and is the first of a proposed 12 dams to be built downstream on the Mekong. Plans are for six dams with Vientiane in the middle and seven more projects toward the Lao-Cambodia border.

A meeting of the four countries was held in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 25-26. The result of the meeting was to hold a final meeting on April 21, the day before a final decision must be reached, six months after Laos presented its proposal. The decision was to punt the final word on the dam to the ministerial level.

The review of the dams provided by the MRC focused primarily on environmental concerns and it stated that social issues related to resettlement and other local impacts were outside the scope of its review.

>> THE REVIEW OF THE DAM PROVIDED BY THE MRC FOCUSED PRIMARILY ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS AND IT STATED THAT SOCIAL ISSUES RELATED TO RESETTLEMENT AND OTHER LOCAL IMPACTS WERE OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF ITS REVIEW.<<

The dams would transform 55 percent of the downstream river into a reservoir, making it into a series of impoundments with slow water movement, according to the report. Earlier the MRC had advised a 10-year moratorium on the dam issue because not enough study had been done and there remained too many uncertainties.

The MRC report did state, however, that the proposed cascade of six dams upstream from Vientiane, excluding proposed tributary dams, would result in fish losses due to reduced capture fisheries estimated at about 66,000 tons a year. The Mekong is home to more than 1,200 different species of fish second in biodiversity only to the Amazon. The report also said that the livelihoods of about 450,000 people, mostly in Laos and Vietnam, would also be at risk to some extent.

The four countries agreed to disclose to the public the MRC review, which has been used by them in assessing the Xayaburi project.

Some of these uncertainties about the Xayaburi project were addressed by environmental groups and Jeremy Bird, outgoing CEO of the MRC, at a Bangkok forum two weeks ahead of the formal MRC meeting in Cambodia.

Environmentalists say. the 240-megawatt Don Sahong, located in the Khone Falls area in southern Laos and 1 kilometer upstream of the Cambodian border, would block the area’s most important fish migration route, undermining fisheries-based livelihoods throughout the basin.

For example, the Mekong is one of the world’s great freshwater inland fisheries and is home to the threatened species, the Mekong dolphin and the Giant Mekong Catfish. Each year 2 million tons of fish are taken from the Mekong. A large part of the fish population comes from the lakes of Cambodia. Fish from Tonle Sap, a lake and tributary, and the Mekong, for example, provide more than 70 percent of the protein in the diet of Cambodia’s 15 million people.


 

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