09/01/2012, 00.00
LAOS - ASIA
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WWF: tens of millions of people at risk from Mekong dams

The study developed with the Australian National University confirms the risks related to the indiscriminate construction of power plants. Fishing will be reduced by 16% to 38% for a financial loss of up to 500 million dollars each year. Problems related to land redistribution. Call for a moratorium of 10 years.

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The series of dams being planned along the Mekong river, if built in the near future, are likely to harm fishing and irreparably distort the distribution of land. The ten plants for the production of electricity along the main river could threaten the survival of tens of millions of people - in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - who rely on fishing (for proteins contained in meat) and agriculture for the supply of food and their livelihood. These are the findings of a joint study prepared by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Australian National University, recently reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Among the major causes of alarm is the continuation of the construction of the Xayaburi dam in Lao territory, in spite of the decision taken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Mekong River (MRC) calling for a halt to construction, in view of more in depth studies and analysis.

According to the original plans, by 2030 there will be 11 stations on the main bed of the river and 77 others throughout the basin affected by its waters, which are home - for now - to at least 850 different species of fish. It is one of the most complex and delicate environmental ecosystems. If the plans for the construction of 11 dams are completed, the study reveals, fish will be reduced by 16% and losses will amount to around 500 million dollars per year, a figure that implies collapse of about 38% if all 88 will be built for the fishing industry.

With regard to the land, over 24 thousand square miles will be needed to complete the projects; land that was previously used for sheep farming, the demand for water for agriculture and livestock - it is no longer possible to go fishing - will suffer variables increases of 6 to 17%. However, the final cost for two poor nations such as Cambodia and Laos will be much higher.

The WWF calls on the nations of the lower Mekong to postpone any decision relating to the construction of dams for at least 10 years, to allow new, more detailed studies. Experts also suggest - if necessary - to build power plants on the tributaries of the river, in order to reduce the environmental impact. In recent days, the Cambodian government has created an area of 180 km along the river where fishing is prohibited, to protect the ecosystem of freshwater dolphin, a species threatened with extinction.

 

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