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Sunday, September 28, 2008

MRC countries debate hydropower management

More than 200 representatives from member countries of Mekong basin, domestic and international organisations along with the private sector are discussing how to sustain the development of hydropower dams in the Mekong region.

The discussion in Vientiane is hosted by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat for regional multi-stakeholder consultation on its hydropower programme. The meeting is taking place from September 25 to 27.

“Hydroelectricity has long been recognised as one of the cleanest, most sustainable and, in the long run, least expensive methods of generating power,” said MRC Joint Committee member for the Lao PDR, Mr Chanthavong Saignasith.

He acknowledged there could be negative impacts associated with hydropower and said it was important the Lower Mekong countries were able to study the benefits and costs associated with dam construction before making decisions.

The MRC provided decision-makers in the four Lower Mekong countries with a sound knowledge platform, enabling them to assess the gains and impacts of each hydropower proposal in a basin-wide context, he said.

This included scientific input from many different fields and sources across the Mekong region and beyond, from village-level fisheries research to international navigation experience. The MRC sources and provides such data, and also assesses plans for various power-generating scenarios through integrated modelling tools.

“The MRC hydropower programme is being designed to assist this decision-making process, and to help set up mechanisms that can make sure countries' concerns are addressed as approved projects are implemented,” said Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat Jeremy Bird.

He said the creation of a framework for regional and cross-sector cooperation on hydropower gives great impetus to sustainable development in the Lower Mekong Basin .

“The MRC believes that developing cooperation and dialogue between countries, at multiple levels of society, can help ensure the growth of the hydropower industry is managed in a way that conserves environmental resources and the livelihoods of the people that depend on them,” he said.

Acting MRC Communi-cations Officer Aiden Glendinning stressed the importance of consultation in the decision-making process.

“It is very important to understand that if a country wants to build a dam on the Mekong , it needs to write a letter to the MRC which we can pass on to other members for discussion and agreement,” he said.

Mr Glendinning said at a press conference yesterday the MRC's role was to arrange meetings for the four members of the lower Mekong countries - Cambodia , Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam - to discuss the development of hydropower dams. China and Myanmar are dialogue partners of the MRC.

He said regarding the contribution to flow, 16 percent of water came from China , two percent from Myanmar , 18 percent from Cambodia , 35 percent from Laos , 18 percent from Thailand and 11 percent from Vietnam . The volume of water in the Mekong is about 475 cubic kilometres a year, which equals 6,500 cubic metres per person per year.

“Dams will block fish migration and create an unnatural situation for fish, but dams can also provide protection from flooding, store water during the rainy season for use in dry season agricultural activities, and produce electricity,” Mr Glendinning said.

“Meanwhile, you have to share the benefits. That means not only benefits for people near the reservoir, but you have to plan for the sustainability of hydropower and consider ways to help people who live downstream to benefit as well.”

Presentations were made by participants from all stakeholder sectors, including national electricity enterprises from the MRC member states, environmental advocacy groups, developers, and national Mekong committees.

Hydropower industry experts from China and outside Asia also attended the consultative meeting. Various different perspectives emerged, and these will help inform the MRC hydropower programme and encourage wider consultation, thus contributing to development outcomes.

By Vientiane Times
(Latest Update September 26, 2008)