Huynh Thi Kim Duyen said her community in Ca Mau Province has seen a significant decline in fish stocks and water levels in the Mekong River in the past decade.
“We who have grown up with the river are able to see even the smallest changes.
“We are worried about our future and the future of our children.”
Duyen is among thousands of people in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand who have signed off on the Statement by Local People on Dams in the Mekong Region, which calls for protecting the river against rampant hydropower dam construction.
The Mekong River flows for over 4,800 km (3,045 miles) through six countries before entering the East Sea through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
The river, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity, supports more than 80 million people.
Laos’s unilateral decision
On September 1 Daovong Phonekeo, director general of the Energy Policy and Planning Department at the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines, confirmed that the National Assembly had approved the concession agreement for the Don Sahong dam with Malaysian developer MegaFirst, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
He added that a power purchase agreement between state-owned Electricite du Laos and the company was awaiting signatures and construction would begin before year end, the paper reported.
We want to know why the Don Sahong Dam and other dams keep being pushed forward and why none of the governments will listen to us,” Sam At, a fisherman in Tonle Sap in Cambodia, said.
The move further confirms what many have feared – despite several protests, delays and adjustments, the Laotian government is determined to eventually complete the Don Sahong project, just like it did with the Xayaburi, another dam on the Mekong.
Laos is reportedly preparing for Pak Beng, the third in a series of 10 dams that experts warn will worsen the damage already caused by six dams further upstream in China.
Sam At, a fisherman in Tonle Sap in Cambodia, said that Cambodia would suffer the worst impacts of the Mekong dams on fisheries, especially from the Don Sahong Dam.
“We want to know why the Don Sahong Dam and other dams keep being pushed forward and why none of the governments will listen to us.”
No local people's role
On November 10-11 more than 100 people gathered in An Giang Province for the historic Mekong People’s Forum, including community representatives from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Most people who have already felt the direct impacts from dams on the Mekong and its tributaries have organized themselves to create a common platform to raise their concerns.
There is a thick cluster of existing and planned dams on the Mekong River.
They released a statement titled “Mekong governments: Listen to the People!” to regional governments, which has been signed by more than 6,400 people living in the Mekong Basin.
The statement calls for the governments to listen to the concerns of the people, respect the rights of local communities to make decisions about the future of their lives and protecting their rivers.
The common problems and concerns about Mekong dams and their impact on fisheries, ecology, hydrology and the loss of land along the Mekong have been shared by people in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia over the past two decades.
Vietnam has expressed increasing concern over the change in quantity and quality of water, the loss of sedimentation and intrusion of saline water into agriculture and fishery production areas both because of hydropower dams and climate change.
Significant impacts have been felt since construction began of the first mega dams on the upper Mekong’s mainstream in China, on other Mekong tributaries, including the Pak Mun Dam in Thailand, Yali Fall Dam in Vietnam, and now the first lower Mekong mainstream dam, the Xayaburi being built by Lao PDR.
“We have a serious question about the Mekong River Commission.With their [scant] knowledge, they cannot make the Mekong governments consider the true cost of these dams and the impact on us,” Chirasak Inthayod of the Hug Chiang Khong Group from northern Thailand said.
People living along the Mekong have done many assessments of the impacts on their rivers, he said.
“I therefore ask why we need to have the MRC. We now propose instead the Mekong People’s Council as a platform to reflect the real concerns of Mekong people.”
Amnart Trijak, a community leader from Nakornphanon Province, Thailand, said the Mekong River belongs to all countries and all peoples.
“The governments have to stop looking only at their own territory. To do this is not reflecting the reality of our shared river. We the people should be able to take a key part in decision-making processes over the future of the rivers.”
STATEMENT BY LOCAL PEOPLE ON DAMS IN THE MEKONG REGION
“MEKONG GOVERNMENTS: LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE!”
We are people from local communities in the Mekong region, who depend on the eco-systems created by the Mekong river and numerous other rivers and lakes in the region, especially, the Tonle Sap, Sesan and Mekong Delta, for our food, health, livelihood, culture, society and incomes. The waters and resources of the Mekong region sustain our lives and economic security.
The dams built on the Mekong mainstream and other rivers in the region have resulted in severe changes in the Mekong’s ecosystems, endangering life, livelihoods and the economy of the entire region. Indigenous peoples, women and children are most affected by these changes. The dams have also worsened the impacts of climate change that we are already facing. These dams include Pak Mun, Yali Falls, Nam Theun 2, Theun-Hinboun, Xayaburi and the series of dams on the Lancang river in China.
We have witnessed and experienced the destruction caused by the dams. For us, who live by the river and experience every change in the water systems, there is no question that such dams result in serious negative impacts for present and future generations, and should not be built.
We have very serious concern about the Don Sahong Dam in Laos, which is located at a critical area for fish migration between the upper and lower Mekong, and will severely reduce fish species and numbers in the whole Mekong river basin. The dam presents special dangers to the Mekong giant catfish and the Irrawaddy Dolphin. The Don Sahong Dam will also negatively affect agriculture and fisheries in the Mekong delta. Despite the destruction that this dam will cause, the Lao Government has not listened to the concerns that have been repeatedly publicly expressed by local people from other Mekong countries.
We have never received full information about any of these dams, never been properly consulted about them, and never been provided the opportunity to participate in decision making about them. We are being forced to bear the increasingly unbearable impacts of these hydropower projects. It is time for our governments to hear our voices and respect our rights to make decision about the future of our rivers and our lives.
• Direct dialogue between Mekong region governments and peoples’ representatives through public forums: governments must come to the public forum which will be soon be organized and attended by Mekong local peoples’ representatives, listen to us and learn from us about the impacts of the dams.
• Studies to understand the full value of the rivers, and social and environmental impacts of dam projects: these studies must be conducted by independent actors, with full participation of all affected communities, and with enough time to gather the evidence needed to make appropriate decisions about the projects. If the studies show that the negative impacts outweigh the benefits, the dams must be stopped.
• Urgent studies and actions on the Don Sahong dam because of its critical location and status of the project. The full costs and impacts of this project must be made public and recognized by all Mekong region governments.
•Once again, we remind our governments that we, the people of the Mekong region, have protected these rivers for generations and must be involved in decision making about them.
6,473 signatures of local people from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam
77 Supporting local, national, and international NGOs