Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And Let the fish be Dammed [IPS, 29.05.12]

And Let the Fish be Dammed    PHNOM PENH, May 29, 2012 (IPS) - Khom Kieu and her family have run a  bustling fish market on the outskirts of Phnom Penh for as long as she  can remember. But these days, ensuring a steady supply of Cambodia=EF=BF=BD=  s  main source of protein is harder than ever.    "There seem to be less and less fish every year," Kieu says. "I have  no idea why."    When Cambodian fishermen can=EF=BF=BDt supply enough food for her customers=  ,  Kieu says she has to import frozen fish caught in neighbouring Vietnam  and hauled up the Mekong.    The bountiful rivers throughout this South-east Asian country have  allowed Cambodians to be self-reliant for generations. But concerned  environmentalists envision a future where this vital food supply will  no longer provide enough protein to feed the country on its own.    The Mekong system is the most productive freshwater fishery in the  world. It represents a key source of animal protein for the countries  along the Lower Mekong - Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.    No country is more dependent on this than Cambodia, where most of the  nation=EF=BF=BDs protein intake comes from its inland fisheries.    Environmentalists are warning, however, that a series of hydropower  dams proposed for the Lower Mekong=EF=BF=BDs mainstream river pose a grave  threat to the region=EF=BF=BDs food supply. The message, they say, is  particularly resonant ahead of June=EF=BF=BDs United Nations Conference on  Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.    "One of the most significant threats to the sustainable development of  the region is the Mekong mainstream dams," says Ame Trandem, the South-  east Asia programme director for the advocacy group International  Rivers. "It would be irresponsible of the region=EF=BF=BDs governments to  allow the Mekong River to be dammed."    China has already moved on developing a cascade of dams on the Upper  Mekong. The mainstream of the Lower Mekong, running south via Burma,  Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, remains undeveloped for the time  being.    But the Lower Mekong nations have proposed 11 hydropower projects.    The first, Laos=EF=BF=BDs Xayaburi proposal in the northern part of the  countr, has proven to be a divisive issue among its neighbours.    Critics say even one dam built on the Lower Mekong could irreparably  harm the region=EF=BF=BDs food supply. The dams could block the passage of  migratory fish - there are more than 100 known species that must  travel long distances to spawn - and environmentalists say mitigation  measures proposed for the dam are unproven and probably ineffective.    Studies show dams could also block significant amounts of sediment  from flowing downstream to agricultural lands reliant on the vital  nutrients.    Cambodia in particular stands to lose more than 300,000 tonnes of fish  production each year should all the proposed dams be built, according  to a 2010 report commissioned by the Mekong River Commission, the  multilateral agency the four Lower Mekong countries set up to guide  development on the river. The figure is greater than the country=EF=BF=BDs  entire current livestock production.    Researchers say Mekong countries would be hard pressed to replace this  key food source with alternative production in resource-intensive  livestock.    In a study released at a May conference on trans-boundary water  management ahead of Rio+20, researcher Jamie Pittock suggests that the  four Lower Mekong countries would need anywhere between 5,700 and  28,300 square kilometres of new pasture land to replace the lost  protein, depending on how many of the dams - both mainstream and  planned tributary projects - are actually built.    Cambodia would face the most problems in having to more than double  its current pastureland, under a worst-case scenario, just to make up  for the lost food source.    This will likely see Mekong countries become more dependent on  importing food to meet their needs.    "Replenishing lost food security for the millions of people impacted  is likely to be extremely costly and has yet to be adequately  considered," said International River=EF=BF=BDs Ame Trandem.    Mekong governments say hydropower in general is needed to fuel  development throughout the region. Thailand would be the main  recipient of power from the planned Xayaburi dam. However, civil  society groups say Thai authorities have over-forecast their energy  needs.    Thai energy analyst Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen says it is profits,  not accurate demand forecasting, that is driving current projections.  The U.S.-based researcher says Thailand=EF=BF=BDs current energy plan has  overestimated the country=EF=BF=BDs needs by 13,200 megawatts, more than te=  n  times the capacity of the proposed Xayaburi project.    "We don't even need the power from Xayaburi," Greacen says. "If the  project is at least justified economically or from an energy  perspective, then there's some debate as to whether or not it's a  worthwhile tradeoff. Even if we were to need the energy I don't think  that the tradeoff is worth it. But what's really sad is that it's not  even a tradeoff. It's not even needed."    For now, plans to dam the Lower Mekong=EF=BF=BDs mainstream are in a holdin=  g  pattern as the four affected countries have reached an impasse on how  to proceed. Cambodia and Vietnam have asked for further study before  any construction is to begin. Any final decision to build, however,  still rests with each country.    Laos has publicly promised to hold off until more research is  complete. But critics point out that Laos has already begun  constructing infrastructure around the dam area. And the Thai firm  tasked with building the Xayaburi project, CH Karnchang, in April  announced that it had finalised a deal to build the dam.    http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=3D=  107947    

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