30 July, 2010
The new strategic plan for basin development for the Mekong region has gone through a major review for one last time on Thursday before being tabled before concerned ministers to approve it at the end of this year.
The review was made among invited concerned stakeholders from the riparian countries during the forum organised by the Mekong River Commission in Vientiane in Lao PDR which ended Thursday.
The plan is expected to provide guidance for future development in the region, but it is unclear at what extent commitment will be made by the concerned governments, including Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the members of the MRC, an inter-governmental advisory body.
It is the first time that the plan has tried to look into benefits and impacts of development in a more integrated way, which involves assessments on impacts of development on the environment and on socio-economic dimension.
The development has revolved around hydropower development potentials. Under the plan, major development scenarios have been developed to give a picture of how the region’s water should be developed. The 5-year period of time scenario has seen at least eight hydropower dams built in China’s river section, with an alternative of an inclusion of those dams with 26 more dams built in the river’s tributaries. The 20-year period of time scenarios have provided options ranging from the buildings of the dams under the 5-year scenarios plus 11 more on mainstream and 30 more on tributaries, and among others.
The studied impacts show that the 5-year period of time scenarios would cause changes of the river flow, and increased fluctuations of water. But it will contribute economic benefits generated by electricity produced by new hydropower, reduction of salination intrusions, and such. The 20-year period of time scenarios with 11 mainstream dams will generate highest economic benefits, but at the same time, create the most severe negative impacts on fishery, which could put up t 3.5 million people especially those in Cambodia at risk of losing livelihood.
The plan was criticised by some stakeholders as they had doubt over public participation process, and the way the plan was conceptualised and centered around hydropower development.
Jeremy Bird, the MRC’s Chief Executive Office, defended the plan, saying it has complied with the Integrated Water Resources Management Principle.
The MRC has no roles in promoting hydropower. It is looking forward to the consequences of development and provided an acceptable level for it.
“Our role is clear. We are doing an analysis and put it on the table,” said Mr Bird. “We are an advisory body, not a decision making body.”