MEKONG RIVER NAVIGATION
Rethink urged on reef blasting
Chinese plan bad for ecology, fishermen
Theerawat Khamthita, Bangkok Post. June 3, 2002.
A Senate committee and local fishermen have urged the government to veto the planned blasting of rocky rapids in the Mekong river, to protect the ecology and jobs.
Environment committee chairman Panas Tasaneeyanont and Chiang Rai senators Tuanjai Deetes and Pol Gen Virun Puensaen visited Chiang Khong district yesterday to discuss the Chinese-engineered plan to clear a channel in the river for commercial shipping.
Rapids in a 350-kilometre section running through China, Burma, Laos and Thailand would be cleared under the 200-million-baht plan.
Prasong Tanasombat, a community leader in tambon Wiang of Chiang Khong, said giant river catfish breed in the rapids.
Water plants known as kai, a source of food for fish and local people alike, also grow there.
Poom Boonnuk, a fisherman, said clearing the rapids would reduce the number of fish in the river and damage the livelihoods of 100,000 people who relied on them.
Without the rapids, the river would flow faster, eroding the banks and damaging riverside plantations.
Chainarong Setchua, director of the South East Asia Rivers Network, said the government should review the blasting agreement.
Clearing the reefs would enable 500-tonne ships to ply the river year-round, but Mr Chainaroong said most trade between Thailand and Laos could be carried in 30- to 100-tonne tonne ships. Clearing the rapids would mainly
benefit China, which owned most of the bigger ships plying the river during the wet season.
Thailand could review the agreement because it was not a business contract, Mr Chainarong said.
Blasting has begun along the section where China meets Burma and Laos. It has not yet reached the section from Chiang Saen to Chiang Khong, nor the downstream section reaching Luang Prabang.
China would clear the rest after the rains. Time was running out for the government to do something.
There are more than 100 rapids set for demolition, including 13 between Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong.
Mr Chainarong said the Transport and Communications Ministry and the Harbour Department had told local people little about the plans.
More agencies should have been involved in such a big project.
Mr Panas, chairman of the Senate environment committee, said the government had agreed to blasting without looking at the probable impact.
It was interested only in money.