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Concern grows over Mekong river project
Reef blasting may upset eco-system

Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post, Nov 30, 2002 

Cambodian and Lao officials yesterday expressed serious concern about the possible negative impacts from the Mekong River navigation improvement project being spearheaded by China.

They demanded that a new environmental impact study, which meets international standards, be conducted before the implementation of the project's second phase.

Thongphou Vongsriprasom, a senior official of Laos' Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, even suggested that the project be shelved after the completion of the first phase, which allows upto 150-tonne ships to navigate on the Mekong.

The Chinese plan calls for the clearing of 11 sets of rapids and shoals in the first phase and more in the later stages to make way for up to 500-tonne-gross ships. Mr Thongphou, who took part in a seminar on the Regional Dialogue on Water Governance organised by the Global Water Partnership and the Cambodia-based Mekong River Commission, said the Lao government needs to consider an in-depth environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project before agreeing to let the second phase to kick-start. ``Our government is worried about the adverse impact from reef blasting. Without the reefs, the flow in the Mekong is likely to be much stronger and big waves caused by huge ships would destroy the country's river banks,'' said Mr Thongphou.

Burma, China, Laos, and Thailand signed the commercial navigation improvement project agreement last year.

In April, China started blasting some of the rapids and shoals lying upstream in the river's shipping channel.

Thailand plans to begin blasting some of the rapids and shoals on its side of the river in Chiang Rai province in mid-December. A senior official of Laos' national river committee, who declined to be named, said three rapids in Laotian waters have already been blasted.

``Laos would only allow up to 150-tonne-gross vessels to pass through. If China wants bigger ships in the river, they must conduct a new EIA because clearing the river for such large ships would have an unacceptable impact on the river's eco-system,'' said the official.

Cambodian delegate Tara Theng, director of the Department of Water Resources Management and Conservation, agreed that a more standardised EIA was needed.

He also urged members of the Greater Mekong Sub-region to hold more discussions before any further development moves. The outcome and case studies presented at the two-day seminar which ended yesterday would be forwarded to the countries' environment ministers, who are to take part in the Third World Water Forum Ministerial Meeting in Kyoto, Japan, next March.


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