Environmental Issues Must Be Taken Into Account Regarding Mekong River Rapids

Blasting the rapids raises serious environmental issues.

Following the recent articles regarding the blasting of the Mekong River rapids to clear the way for larger shipping, environmental issues are being raised still further.

The Prime Minister  has already stated that the government has approved the scheme and it should not be opposed.

The Mekong runs through six countries in the region and it is not right that one or two be allowed to make a short-sighted decision on what to do with the river. It still remains unclear about who will really benefit from what the PM is talking about.

China uses the Mekong more than other countries in the basin, and the river also runs through several parts of Laos. Therefore, it is not really up to Thailand to make decisions about the river.

It is widely known that China opened the waterway in the Mekong River to countries downstream more than two decades ago. Thailand’s Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong ports have been kept busy with vessels from China.

Thailand, of course, does ship to China via the Mekong, but China uses the waterway more. It has been clearing the Golden Triangle stretch for more than 10 years, making navigation safe and convenient from Simao port in Yunnan province to Thailand. Vessels below 50 tonnes can now travel down the Mekong without any hindrance as all rocks and islands in the river have been moved.

However, this is not enough for China to achieve its goal of allowing bigger vessels to travel down the river to at least Luang Prabang in Laos. In order to do that, China will have to clear more stretches of the river from Laos’ Huay Xay to Luang Prabang. The river has banks in both Thailand and Laos in some parts.

There are many rapids and dangerous areas in this portion of the river, and many boats have reportedly been lost in this area.

Though navigation in the river needs to be safe, clearing this portion for convenient and safe navigation would be a huge challenge.

Local residents and conservationists are urging the government to review its decision, as blasting rocks and islands to clear the waterway would affect livelihoods and the environment.

Countries in the upper Mekong, namely China, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, sat down to discuss the matter and ended up with a Development Plan for International Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River (2015-2025).

The Mekong, half of which runs through the mainland, is called Langcang in China. Made known to the public a year ago, the plan, regulated by a Joint Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation (JCCCN) comprising representatives from the four countries, includes the clearing of the Mekong River for navigation.

The Mekong, half of which runs through the mainland, is called Langcang in China. Made known to the public a year ago, the plan, regulated by a Joint Committee on Coordination of Commercial Navigation (JCCCN) comprising representatives from the four countries, includes the clearing of the Mekong River for navigation.

There is already an international regulating body, known as the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that was formed under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, except it only covers the lower portion of the river, which runs through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

There is growing feeling that more discussion is needed and indeed public opinion should be sought. Particularly in view of the fact that livelihoods will be lost. Not to mention the catastrophic effect on the environment.

Another major consideration, particularly for Thailand, is who benefits the most from the scheme. There is only one answer, China. It is to be hoped that the government does not stubbornly proceed without more consideration of the issues that have been raised.

(Source: The Nation,Thailand)

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