How to Respond to the Transboundary Water Crisis – Mekong River Nations


The concerns over hydropower development on Mekong River is leading to “unprecedented” reactions in the local and international communities.

The concerns over hydropower development on Mekong River and 3S – the name of three rivers Sesan, Sekong and Srepok which flows through the territory of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia before joining the Mekong River – is leading to “unprecedented” reactions in the local and international communities.

International Rivers called this the “transboundary water crisis”. ​With a basin area of 800,000 square kilometers, the Mekong River Basin is the largest inland fishery in the world, and is home to 65 million people from 6 countries: Myanmar, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Its steep terrain makes Mekong become very convenient for hydropower development. Due to increased electricity demand and robust economic development, 11 dams are being built on the main river and 41 others on the tributaries, which are expected to be completed within the next 4 years. About 10-37 other dams will likely to be built within the period from 2015 to 2030.

Another important area is the 3S river system in Northeastern Cambodia, Southern Laos, and Central Vietnam which is dominated by the three Mekong branches Sesan, Sekong and Srepok. On the 3S rivers, there are more than 20 dams in operation or in construction. In addition, 26 other projects on the territory of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are being planned to further subdivide the three rivers.

Despite that this hydropower system has many potential transboundary impacts on the biodiversity, ecosystems and livelihoods of various local communities, the implementation of those project was not adjusted and governed by the Mekong Agreement on the mainstream projects.

Also regarding this issue, a new study by Guy Ziv – an environmental scientist from Stanford University, California showed that the construction of another 26 dams on Mekong River’s tributaries will cause huge biodiversity damages to the entire Mekong River Basin and severely reduce the fish yield in Cambodia and Vietnam. If further studies confirm these initial results and are able to accurately determine the pros (increased power source) and cons (reduced fish yield) based on conversion to money, the countries should decide that the construction of dams on the tributaries, though within the national territory, must be subject to the same guidelines as for the mainstream dams.

A simple statement to the other countries must be considered insufficient. There must be compensation from the sale of energy resources for all the affected countries. A general code of conduct and a philosophy of economic and energy development, which value sustainability and respect the environment, are needed.

Realizing the great influence of the construction of dams on Mekong River and its three main tributaries to the local and international communities, on June 3-4, 2013, TERRA (Thailand) , Cambodian NGO Forum, 3S Rivers Protection Network (Cambodia), Buddhist Association for Environmental Development (Cambodia), Fisheries Action Coalition Team (Cambodia), Culture and Environmental Protection Association (Cambodia) and Vietnam Rivers Network have organized a local forum on “Dams on Mekong River and 3S: Voice of the people on the river crisis and the road ahead” in Cambodia. At the forum, Mrs. Omboun Tipsuna from the Network of Community Organization Council for seven Northeastern provinces of Thailand, said that there is no need for further assessment of the impacts from hydropower.

The lessons from Thailand’s hydropower are clear proof for the community and governments of the regional countries. Mr. Tek Vannara, Deputy Director of Cambodian NGO Forum, shared his hope that this forum will bring the voice of the people in the communities affected by hydropower dams to the various concerned parties, especially the government leaders. “The governments in the Mekong River Basin should respect the rights and decisions of the local communities regarding the hydropower dam projects and protect the livelihoods and ecosystems towards a sustainable development,” said Mr. Tek Vannara.


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