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Mekong community network points out 7 demands in handling the changing ecosystem

On 11 March, 2021, the Network of Community Organization Council of Seven Northeastern Provinces in Mekong Basin (Loei, Nong Khai, Bueng Kan, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen and Ubon Ratchathani), together with 3 members of the National Fisheries Policy Committee, joined in filing a request to the Prime Minister with 7 demands for the government to solve the problems of the people who are affected by ecosystem changes in the Mekong Basin.

The network marching to the Government House to submit the demands on 11 March. 

The negative impact of dam construction in China and Laos on the people’s way of life, their livelihoods and their traditions along the Mekong has never been corrected. The problems are increasing and becoming more serious.

Nevertheless, the Network acknowledges the past attempts of the working team to solve the problems of the ecosystem . This team includes the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Network however sees the complex procedures to obtain approval from several departments and parties. We can no longer wait for normal government procedures, but demand that the government solve the problem urgently with seriousness and sincerity.

The troubling problems of the people along the Mekong river occurred after China built 10 dams, 6 of them already operational, containing about 40,787 million cubic meters of water (or about 2.3 times the Srinagarind Dam, which is the largest in Thailand). But after the dams started operations in 2010, the water level in the Mekong river has fluctuated wildly and continuously. Laos also has plans to build 10 dams in total on the Mekong river. 2 are now finished: Xayaburi and Don Sahong. The Xayaburi Dam started operations on 29 October 2019, and Don Sahong in January 2020.  Currently Laos is in the middle of building more dams at Pak Lay, Pak Beng and Luang Prabang.

From 1993 until 2018, all Chinese dams were managed for water relief, especially the furthest downstream dam, Jinghong which resulted in violent changes to the natural flow of the Mekong river, water quality and the river ecosystem, affecting the local way of life and economic systems of communities along the river.

For example, in 2010, there was a sudden flood, but not much rain locally. In 2010, there was the worst drought in 60 years. After Jinghong dam was completed and started to store water, there was flooding in mid-December 2013, due to monsoon storms, and heavy rain in China. The flow of the Mekong river has a large impact on the ecosystem, including freshwater animal resources. It also effects agricultural production in the northeast part of Thailand, especially in the provinces along the Mekong river, and consequently on the livelihood of the people.

Mrs Ormbun Thipsuna, President and Committee Member of the Network, who has expertise in freshwater fishery, and who is on the National Fisheries Policy Committee, reveals the 7 demands:

1. To urge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite bilateral talks between Thai and Laos on energy, water resources and the environment, in order to integrate the work towards cooperation and assistance in providing and managing water as well as information sharing. They must raise issues for consultation at the leaders’ level between Thailand and Laos by March 2021 and then expand the talks and negotiations with China, with the wide participation and voice of the people. This is for the maximum benefit of natural resources for the country, and to preserve them for generations to come.

2. To make the Thai government delay the purchase of electricity or any contracts for the purchase of electricity from any dams in Laos on the Mekong river, until we see clear resolution of the electricity supply requirements of Thailand, and the need to purchase electricity from dams on the Mekong river. In forecasting electricity purchases and usage, there should not be consideration only of the dimension of energy security, but also the impact on the country’s ecosystems and natural resources as a whole. A careful consultation procedure with interest parties and the people’s sector is needed. There is also an urgent need to set up compensation mechanisms for communities along the Mekong River affected by the problem.

3. The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment must expedite amendments to the law in order to promote environmental quality. This will enable Thailand to analyse the environmental impact (EIA) of transborder projects. It will also enable us to protect Thailand’s interests in natural resources and the environment, as well as raise issues for further effective negotiation. In the present emergency situation, we wish to ask the Prime Minister to exercise his administrative power and order ONEP to conduct an analysis of transborder environmental impacts, as the government has previously ordered ONEP to do in the case of the dynamiting of islands in the Mekong.

4. There must be efficient data management and real-time warning systems for water level changes, from Chiang Rai Province to Ubon Ratchathani Province, allowing the people easy access to the information in every area along the Mekong river. This is to relieve the trouble of the people, so they can manage water level changes and utilize the water.

5. Compensation measures must be stipulated for communities along the Mekong river whose livelihoods and income have been negatively impacted, either in fisheries, agriculture or livestock.

6. The process for decentralizing power to local administrative organizations must be expedited with regard to natural resources and environmental management in a concrete manner, incorporating both mission and budget, as well as personnel issues. Consultations and discussions must be conducted with interested parties and the people’s sector. With regard to the need for local administrative organizations to have an expanded mission and duty, the National Decentralization Committee must use its power under Sections 16 and 17 of the Decentralization to Local Government Organizations Act.

7. The appointment of a sub-committee for solving problems of ecosystem changes along the Mekong river which impact freshwater animal resources must be expedited. This must be implemented under the National Fisheries Policy Committee chaired by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy PM, according to the Cabinet Resolution 1/2564 of 6 January 2021, and to be concluded by 12 March 2021. This is to solve the problem of eco-condition changes, affecting freshwater animal resources. The process follows the legal mechanism (the Fisheries Act) to be conducted by this sub-committee, which has to consult all sectors. They will prepare a plan and project to submit to the cabinet for approval, which all government sectors will consequently pursue.

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