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Sunday, April 6, 2008

New rush to dam Mekong alarms environmentalists

Hanoi, March 28: The Mekong River, the world`s 12th largest waterway crossing six countries, may soon be tamed by a cascade of mega dams, but critics say the plan will harm the fish stocks millions of people rely on.

Plans for a series of Mekong mainstream dams have been made and scrapped several times since the 1960s, but now, with oil above USD 100 a barrel, the projects look more appealing than ever to their proponents.

The river`s future will be a key issue when prime ministers of the Mekong countries meet on Sunday and Monday in the Lao capital Vientiane for a summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), with the Asian Development Bank.

The 4,800-kilometre river originates in the Tibetan plateau of China, where it is called the Lancang, before running through Yunnan province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea.

To the pro-development lobby, the Mekong is a dream of hydropower potential for an energy-hungry region. To environmentalists, it`s a nightmare.

Laos, Cambodia and Thailand have all allowed Chinese, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese companies to study at least seven mainstream hydropower projects.

The new projects on the drawing board are "a serious threat to the river`s ecology" and the millions who depend on it for water, food, income and transport, said Carl Middleton of environmental watchdog international rivers.

"By changing the river`s hydrology, blocking fish migration and affecting the river`s ecology, the construction of dams on the lower Mekong mainstream will have repercussions throughout the entire basin.

Bureau Report

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