Environmentalist Warns of Damage From Chinese Damming

2004-03-18
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BANGKOK — ; A Thai environmentalist is warning that Chinese dam projects along the upper Mekong River will harm countries downstream, RFA's Lao service reports.

"China is only thinking of itself," Thaweevong Seeburee, director of the Institute of Environmental Analysis at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, told RFA. "The river is an international waterway flowing through several countries. But when they decide to do something, they don't think of what will happen to Thailand, [or] Cambodia. There are definitely problems looming in the future."

China's southern Yunnan Province, one of the country's poorest, began building dams in the 1990s to meet their electrical power needs. But problems arose when China closed the dam gates and opened them to let their ships pass through. When the gates closed back up, the water supply was severely diminished to the southern countries.

The countries affected by China's dam projects are Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Thaweevong Seeburee said that while the Mekong River's water levels stay the same, Chinese dam projects restrict the water flowing downstream, which results in severe drought and muddy water. If the level of the Mekong River remains too low over time, saltwater may eventually flow upstream, thereby contaminating the Mekong's fresh water and rendering the water undrinkable and unacceptable for agricultural use.

"Other ecological problems resulting from Chinese damming include the disappearance of giant catfish and of the Mekong weed that is used for food and as a cash crop," he said.

Another problem is a depletion of the underground water table. In the dry season, villagers who dig wells will have to dig deeper to get to the water, Thaweevong Seeburee predicts.

The Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world at a length of 4,800 kms. More than 60 million people depend on the river for food, water, and transportation. The yearly periods of floods and dry conditions are important for the production of rice and vegetables.

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