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Environmentalist Warns Against Mekong Dams


With the Mekong River experiencing its lowest water levels in decades, a Cambodian environmentalist says the country should not jump into constructing hydroelectric dams but should instead consider alternative energy.

The construction of Mekong dams in countries above Cambodia has already had an impact on Cambodians who rely on the river, Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Cultural and Environmental Preservation Association, told “Hello VOA” Thursday.

“People are facing a lot of difficulties due to the development of the Mekong basin, mainly related to hydropower construction and diversion of water for irrigation,” he said.

Southern China is undergoing a prolonged drought that has dried up rice fields and left tens of thousands of people short of water. Meanwhile, farmers and fishermen in other Mekong countries have lashed out at China for its construction of four hydro-dams on the river.

Leaders from the Mekong basin are due to meet in Thailand the weekend to discuss the drought and other issues.

“Climate change and the construction of these dams are the main factors causing the low water levels,” Tep Bunnarith said.

A senior government official told “Hello VOA” the levels of the Mekong were part of a cycle, one that played out in 1992 and 1998, when water was at similar levels—with no dams constructed.

But the official, Sin Niny, vice chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, did say that reservoirs in Laos and China had insufficient water under the drought.

“That’s why they have to use water reserved during the rainy season for hydropower generation,” Sin Niny said. “This is the reason why water flowing to the lower Mekong has decreased.”

Tep Bunnarith said that if the trend continues, it will hurt this year’s fish catch, a main source of protein for many Cambodians, especially the rural poor.

Instead, the government should consider renewable energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels to help power the many areas still off the national power grid, he said.

“We have to think: if the need for energy consumption in a local area is so big that we have to build a big dam across the river, this will affect people’s livelihood,” he said.

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