by Hoang Nam
HCM CITY — International experts and multi-stakeholders met in HCM City yesterday for the final workshop on the environmental and social impacts of 12 proposed hydropower dams on the mainstream lower Mekong.
About 100 participants from six Mekong countries attended the "Avoidance, mitigation and enhancement" workshop that is part of the "Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of Proposed Mainstream Hydropower Dams in the Lower Mekong" study. It is the fourth and final workshop of the series.
"Mekong River is famous for its huge potential of hydropower development, 59,900MW basin-wide and 30,900MW in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB)," Dr Le Duc Trung director general of the Viet Nam National Mekong Committee told workshop in his opening speech.
"However, negative impacts from hydropower construction on the river-dependent ecosystem and livelihoods of millions of people should be estimated," Trung said.
Private sector developers will build the 12 mainstream Mekong hydropower dams that are planned for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao under respective government MOUs.
The 1995 Mekong Agreement, signed by Cambodia, Lao, Thailand and Viet Nam, requires that such projects are discussed extensively among all four countries prior to any decision being taken.
The year-long study has researched impacts on regional energy planning; people; fisheries and barrier effects of dams on fish migration; maintenance of ecological integrity and biodiversity; river morphology and sediment balance; and water quality and salinity intrusion.
The two-day workshop aims to avoid or mitigate risks and enhance the benefits of the dams.
It would address key uncertainties including how countries view measures to attenuate for the potential cost to fisheries and other livelihoods in light of the financial and other significant benefits of the dams, said Voradeth Phonekeo, manager of the Mekong River Commission (MRC)'s Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower.
"That discussion, facilitated by the MRC, will consider the full range of social, environmental and cross-sector development impacts within the LMB," said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC Secretariat.
"The MRC has already carried out extensive studies on the consequences for fisheries and people's livelihoods and this information is widely available. The SEA provides the necessary broader understanding of the opportunities and risks of such development," Bird added.
Some of the strategies that have been suggested include the relative merits of mainstream dams over an accelerated programme of tributary hydropower projects or other electricity supply alternatives, and prioritising certain areas important for fish migration and sediment-nutrient management.
Benefits of the 12 dams include a reduction of fossil fuels for electricity and profits from power exports that can be used to finance rural and social development projects.
The complete report on the MRC study that began in May 2009 will be released in August. — VNS