21 June 2013

Erroneous "Facts" About Xayaburi Dam Leave Me Wondering What the Agenda Is?

It is quite alarming to read such an article as the one pasted below. This thing has more than quite a few pieces of misinformation reported as "fact" from "experts". One may ask why the issues that are being highlighted are being pushed forward in the constant discourse about Xayaburi, rather than some of the very big issues that local people are dealing with already. I would ask such experts to be more responsible in their statements rather than putting forward their point of view without doing their homework. I just finished up field work on the ground at some of the villages in question. There are some very real issues to address, but if you confuse the problem with poorly researched "fact" the issues will in fact not be addressed until it is too late.

If you want to be an advocate and help people, get your reported numbers and issues closer to reality first (for instance, no one actually knows much about the fish migrations in this section of the Mekong) and then move beyond this: open other's eyes to the real issues - the ones out of our control. Maybe not so sexy and easy as pointing at the Xayaburi dam? Why is the fish catch so much less than it was 5 years ago - so much so that people cannot support their families on what they are pulling out of the Mekong in the Xayaburi area? Why are the water levels so erratic in the last 5 years? The dry and wet seasons are no longer predictable, which means the fish catch is no longer predictable, nor the growing season. How are the people in the resettled villages adjusting psychologically? Are there services for their mental health in readjusting from hunter/gatherer to farmer and fish farmer? Can people really survive subsisting on the Mekong in the 21st century? What about the lignite power plant in Sayabouri Province? The Sino-hydro project in tributaries in the north? The massive storage dams in the Yunnan Province?

Yes, Xayaburi is exporting 80% of the energy away, the benefits of the project, but the government is exploring benefits sharing. Small scale energy generation is usually floated in contrast to larger dam projects. I am not sure that mainstem damming is any less disruptive and problematic to downstream countries like Cambodia, then the myriad tributary dams going in all over each country. There are studies that suggest many small scale dams are actually more damaging than one large dam. In any case, dams disrupt water flow and change the hydrologic regime, which changes everything attached to it: people, wildlife, biotic and aquatic systems. This is known. My suggestion is that we should think about identifying solutions to real issues, such as the questions above, that are not completely raised in this article. And write about them if we are going to write about anything. Science and reporting to make a point or sensationalize something hurts local people much more than it helps them. 

On Friday, June 21, 2013 2:31:21 PM UTC+1, Moderator wrote:

*Dams Threaten Mekong Basin Food Supply*

BANGKOK, Jun 20 (IPS) - The future of food security in the Mekong region lies at a crossroads, as several development ventures, including the Xayaburi Hydropower Project, threaten to alter fish migration routes, disrupt the flow of sediments and nutrients downstream, and endanger millions whose livelihoods depend on the Mekong River basin's resources.
Running through China, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, Thailand and Cambodia to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, this is Asia's seventh longest transboundary river.
An estimated 60 million people live within the lush river basin, and nearly 80 percent depend on the Lower Mekong's waters and intricate network of tributaries as a major source of food.
But if all goes according to plan, 88 dams will obstruct the river’s natural course by 2030. Seven have already been completed in the Upper Mekong basin in China, with an estimated twenty more either planned or underway in the northwest Qinghai province, the southwestern region of Yunnan and Tibet.
Construction of the 3.5-billion-dollar Xayaburi Dam on the Lower Mekong in northern Laos is the first of eleven planned dam projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, with nine allocated for Laos and two in Cambodia.
Construction began in 2010 and as of last month the project was 10 percent complete.
At best these development projects will alter the traditional patterns of life here; at worst, they will devastate ecosystems that have thrived for centuries.
Over 850 freshwater fish species call the Mekong home, and several times a year this rich water channel is transformed into a major migration route, with one third of the species travelling over 1,000 kilometres to feed and breed, making the Mekong River basin one of the world's most productive inland fisheries.
Large-scale water infrastructure development projects such as hydropower dams have already damaged the floodplains in the Lower Mekong and in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia, affecting water quality and quantity, lowering aquatic productivity, causing agricultural land loss and a 42-percent decline in fish supplies.
This spells danger in a region where fish accounts for 50 to 80 percent of daily consumption and micronutrient intake, Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director for the non-profit International Rivers, told IPS.
Locating alternative protein sources such as livestock and poultry is no easy task and would require 63 percent more pasture lands and more than 17 percent more water.
"Cambodia is the largest fish eating country in the world. Get rid of the fish and you're going to have serious problems because there is not enough livestock in Cambodia and Laos to compensate for the loss,” Trandem said.
With a total population of over 16 million, the Mekong Delta is known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam. It nurtures vast paddy fields that are responsible for 50 percent of national rice production and 70 percent of exports.
This low-lying delta depends on a natural cycle of floods and tides, with which Vietnamese farmers have long synchronised their planting and harvesting calendars.
Now, experts like Geoffrey Blate, senior advisor of landscape conservation and climate change for the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Greater Mekong Programme in Thailand, say this delicate ecosystem is vulnerable to changes brought on by global warming and mega development projects.
The telltale signs of rising sea levels and unprecedented salt water intrusion have already put Vietnamese communities on red alert, while sudden changes to the water flow caused by incessant damming has resulted in “increased precipitation and heavy downpours during the rainy season," Blate told IPS.
If all the dams are built, experts estimate that 220,000 to 440,000 tonnes of white fish would disappear from the local diet, causing hunger and leading to a rapid decline in rice production.
Electricity over sustainability?
Citing a shortage of energy, Thailand’s leading state-owned utility corporation, EGAT, signed an agreement to purchase 95 percent of the Xayaburi dam’s anticipated 1,285 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
Six Thai commercial banks comprise the financial muscle of the project, while construction is in the hands of Thailand’s CH. Karnchang Public Company Limited, with some support from the Laotian government.
But energy experts like Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen, author of Thailand’s Alternative Power Development Plan, have poked holes in the claim that the dam is required to meet growing energy needs.
Thailand is a net importer of electricity, but a lot of it is utilised wastefully, he told IPS, adding that countries like Laos and Cambodia have a much more immediate need for electricity: the World Bank estimates that only 84 percent of the population in Laos and 26 percent in Cambodia have access to electricity, compared to 99.3 percent in Thailand.
But instead of developing their own generation capacities, these governments have chosen export projects that profit corporations over people.
“Thailand is creating a lot of environmental, social and food issues for local communities by extending its grid to draw power from beyond our borders,” Greacen said.
Already, roughly 333 families from villages like Houay Souy in north-central Laos, who were moved to make way for the dam, are feeling the first hints of greater suffering to come.
Once a self-sufficient community that generated revenues via gold panning and cultivated their own riverbank gardens to produce rice, fruits and vegetables, villagers are now finding themselves without jobs, very little money and not enough food.
“The villagers’ primary source of food was fishing and agriculture. In their new location, about 17 km away from their old homes, they were given small plots of agricultural land but not enough for their daily consumption needs,” said Trandem.
“Ch. Karnchang never compensated them for lost fisheries, fruit trees or the riverbank gardens that were washed away. Their new homes were built with poor quality wood, which was quickly eaten into by termites, so what little compensation they did receive went to fixing their new homes,” she added.
These families, numbering about five members per household, are now barely surviving on 10 dollars per month and symbolise the gap between so-called poverty alleviation programmes their impact on the ground.
“The Laos government claims that dams will generate revenue but in reality…projects like Xayaburi basically export benefits and profits away from the host country while smaller projects that are more economically sustainable are being ignored,” says Greacen.
She believes the Laotian government should explore small-scale renewable energy projects like biomass and micro-hydro plants that would attract local investment and directly serve local populations.
Blate also suggested building diversion canals for smaller dams, rather than obstructing the main stem of the Mekong River.

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