CSEAS Indonesia

Warnings issued on about impact of new dams

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta: Experts warned on Wednesday countries building or planning to construct hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River that the developments could cause environmental damage, threats to food security and possible conflicts.

Speaking at the Regional Workshop on Sustainable Water Resource Management in the Mekong River: Human Security and Regional Stability in South east Asia held in Jakarta, the experts said they believed China, which is one of six countries through which the river passes, and ASEAN could reduce the negative impacts and avoid possible crisis in the region. “China is the [most] important actor. ASEAN could also contribute to settle it,” Muhammad Riefqi Muna of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said in the seminar organized by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Although China and the members of ASEAN have different political systems, Riefqi suggested the countries consider involving their people in their national developments, including the construction of dams. “Now, sovereignty is not only in the hands of the government, but also in the people. Public participation is important in every aspect of the development,” he added. Besides China, the other fivecountries passed by the 4,350 kilometer-long river are Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, which are all members of the ASEAN bloc. The countries are constructing dozens of dams and proposing more to cope with an increasing need for electricity.

The booming hydropower project construction raises concerns over the environment and rice production, as well as for local fishermen. Indonesia imports rice from Thailand and Vietnam. Researcher Huijian Wu of the
Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, said the construction of hydropower plants have irreversible negative impacts on their ecosystems and the livelihoods of the rural poor. Wu revealed a survey of the poor living in villages around the area of the Lower Sesan Dam, which was being constructed in Cambodia at a total cost of US$861 million and was expected
to be completed next year.

She said more than 20 percent of residents in the survey, which was conducted in June last year, rejected relocating for various reasons, including the small com pensation and a lack of health, educational and economic facilities in the new homes. In the interviews, the residents expressed their feelings, such as anger, fear, frustration, disappointment at being ignored, loss of confidence, isolation, anxiety and depression over their future because of the existence of the dam, she said.

Meanwhile, researcher Margareth Sembiring of the Center for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University Singapore, said the negative social impacts and environmental damages could lead to crossborder conflicts. “Strong cooperation among the countries is needed. The nations should be committed more to advanced technology and support for their local farmers and fishermen,” Margareth said in the seminar.

However, a participant from Thailand said it was regretful that none of the seminar speakers were from the countries through which the Mekong River flows. “It would be good to have them speak at the seminar,” she said. She said the countries should choose between the need for elec tricity by the majority of the people and the interests of minority groups.

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