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Experts Say Cooperation Needed on Mekong River Resources

Experts meeting to discuss Mekong River resources have urged countries along the Southeast Asian river to improve cooperation in developing hydropower. Delegates also urged China to share more information about its dam building on the Mekong.

After two days of discussions, some 200 experts on water, environmental protection, and finance concluded there is not enough cooperation on developing the Mekong River's resources.

They urged Mekong countries to find a balanced approach to harness the river's economic benefits such as hydropower without causing too much social and environmental damage.

Ian Matthews is with the ANZ Bank in Singapore. He says international standards for environmental protection are not being met on Mekong dam projects when international banks are not involved.

"As a country, as a government, there's a clear desire to have hydropower finance because it is an increasingly valuable resource in places like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. If the international bank is not going to finance it, and they're not going to apply World Bank standards, IFC standards, to these projects, what you get are banks coming in who have much lower standards. Now, that will lead to much greater degradation of the environment, it will lead to the exclusion of other stakeholders."

China is the only country with hydropower dams on the Mekong and along with Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand is also planning to build more.

Until recently China provided very little information from its dams to its downstream neighbors.

And when the river flooded in 2008 and this year dropped to a 50-year low, many along the Mekong blamed China.

However, the Mekong River Commission, the organization coordinating cooperation on the river, says drought was the real culprit.

But the MRC says dams on the Mekong are likely to have adverse effects on fish migration and sediment flows.

Pham Thi Thanh Hang (pam tih tang hang) is coordinator of the MRC's Basin Development Program. She noted China was giving more data on its dams but said even more was needed.

"We have been benefiting from the sharing of informations, from the sharing of the borders used, with our Chinese colleagues, and comparing the model results. But, we will also benefit if further, extensive information will be shared. For example, on the operations of the dams. So that the countries down here can really plan and work according to a good understanding of what are the opportunities and risks."

MRC member countries are Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Their Prime Ministers are to meet Monday to discuss for the first time efforts to improve transparency and cooperation on the river.

They will be joined by dialogue partners from upstream countries Burma and China.