NGOs push for talks with Beijing on dam impact

Bangkok Post
23 February 2010

The government has been urged to hold talks with Beijing on the impact of Chinese dams on the upper Mekong River following recent sharp drops in the river's water flow.

The Save the Mekong Coalition - an alliance of environmental groups and riverside communities monitoring ecological changes in the Mekong River - believes the unusually low level of the river is caused by Chinese dams.

"It's time for the Thai government to look into the impact of [Chinese] dams on downstream communities," the group said in a statement issued yesterday.

The group said a large number of people had been affected by the unusual river flow patterns since 1993 when Manwan, the first dam built on the upper Mekong, began to operate.

The Chinese government has built four mega-dams on the Mekong. The fourth - Xiaowan, which is the world's highest arch dam and the second largest hydroelectric power station in China after the Three Gorges Dam - was completed and began to store water last October.

Peerasak Intayos, of the Chiang Rai-based Mekong Conservation Group, said water levels in the Mekong had dropped sharply since Saturday, prompting tour boat operators to suspend services such as those between Chiang Rai and Luang Prabang in Laos.

The Royal Irrigation Department yesterday reported that water levels measured in Loei, Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom provinces were at a "critical low".

Pianporn Deetes, of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network, urged the government to hold talks with Beijing on the situation.

"The Thai authorities must ask Beijing to disclose the amount of water stored by the dams to see if the water shortage has been caused by the dams' operations," she said.

"The government must also work with other Mekong countries to map out measures to help riverside folk."

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