Advancing People’s Partnership for Sustainable Mekong

Marking the one-year anniversary of tragic loss of lives due to the collapse of the Xe Pian Xe-Nam-Noy saddle dam in Lao, representatives of the Mekong communities, river networks, youth from the communities and the universities gathered at the Mekong Public Forum in late July 2019 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Joint by over 230 people, the forum provided opportunity for the riparian communities to not only discussed impacts on - and concerns of – the change the Mekong River and its communities has been facing, but also solutions towards more sustainable and equitable energy development pathways that respect the rights of, and directly benefits, affected communities.

Representatives from Stung Treng province highlighted that “We request to the governments of countries along the Mekong River, before constructing the hydropower dam on the mainstream Mekong or tributaries river, please conduct the impact assessment and clearly consult with the people on the impacts. If the impact is severe, we request you stop the construction before hydropower dam building have significant impacts on millions of people whose lives depends the River”. 

Representatives from Thailand (left) and Cambodia (middle) raised the questions to the panel comprised government representatives, development partner and EIA consulting firm. Far right: messages from participants at the public forum on “The Mekong We Want.” All photos by Ridan Sun.

The Mekong Delta experienced the most noticeable change as a result of the changes happening upstream of the Mekong River. According to the Mekong River Commission’s Council Study (2017), current hydropower plans would cause a 97% reduction in the sediment load reaching the Mekong Delta; the reduced sediment and nutrient transport caused by upstream dams will significantly reduce soil fertility, rice production and fish yields.

Mr Tin, a representative from An Giang province in the Mekong Delta Vietnam, said: “The water discharged from the Mekong River has observably changed; as a result, we witness the flood season has changed in the Delta. Many people’s livelihood relies on the river flood for their agriculture productivity. Secondly, we experienced the erosion of the riverbank and this causes the loss of livelihood for people living by the bank of the river because they have to evacuate and resettle in the new place. Thirdly, the Salinity intrusion experienced by people living in Ca Mau province affected to the crop and income generation. People have migrated to city/town to find new employment opportunity to sustain their living.” 

Mr. Tin shared the solution that community in the Delta has adapted to the change, including shifting to agriculture crops that adaptive to the new climate condition; work with local authority to seek support for families who loss home due to bank erosion; and resolve to adopting alternative renewable energy such as solar energy technology to enhance energy access use and livelihood option link to agriculture productivity.

The Mekong public forum provided space and platform for communities, concerned civil society, and other stakeholders such as Cambodian government, researchers and Mekong River Commission to listen and respond toward concerns and recommendations articulated by riparian community representatives from Cambodia, Thailand and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. With the details account shared by communities on the changes they experiences that occurs in the Mekong River such as the hydrological flow patterns change, change in water availability, impacts on fishery, livelihood and resettlement, community representatives encourage the Mekong governments and concerned agencies to take their concerns and suggestion into their decision making on the current and future development of the Rivers.

Participants at the forum include representatives from the Cambodia government agencies, development partner and Environment Impact Assessment Consulting Firm who highlighted factors that further contribute to the current situation in the Mekong region. While largely acknowledging the impacts that communities articulated, the panelists remind the forum of factors other than hydropower dam construction and operation but also impact from climate change, change in the hydrological flow, and geopolitical environment government the water resources cooperation in the Mekong.

Ms Nhu Doung Hai, Stakeholder Engagement Specialist from MRCS highlighted the impact of hydropower dam and encourage the government to pay extra attention. Inputs from the participants and discussion among panel members reiterated the need to increase access to information and knowledge, focus more on solutions, including identifying channels to ensure messages are heard by decision-makers and bring about change.

Civil society representative from Vietnam raised question round the fact that the private developers often claims that hydropower dam design take into account the climate change impact and extreme whether condition. However, it appears that some of the data use are old and when there is safety issue that link to possible breaking, climate change impact, heavy rain fall are used as the reason.

This forum is an example of dialogues between people, governments and private sector that shall be facilitated more into the future; having platform that enable key actors to listen to in order to inform better understanding of impact, enhance collaboration for better governance of the Mekong River is ever more needed as the pace of changes is rapid. Development decision needs to equally consider social, environment, biodiversity, and cultural values that are of great important to the people the Mekong people and not only trying to meet energy needs and increase economic gains.'

Participants at the Mekong Public Forum, 31st July 2019.