Vientiane, Lao PDR, 29th Jul 2009
A meeting in Vientiane yesterday saw China reaffirm its commitment to work with Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam on a range of Mekong related issues including understanding the environmental effects of hydropower dams on the river.
The Chinese delegation to the Mekong River Commission-run Dialogue Meeting made a presentation detailing the progress of hydropower schemes in the Upper Mekong and emphasised that Chinese plans to build dams have taken the environmental, navigational and water-use needs of downstream riparian countries seriously.
"The Chinese government agencies have developed strict procedures for environmental assessment," claimed Chief Engineer Pen Cheng, of Hydro China. "Much research has been conducted on the Xiowan Dam," he said, referring to the second largest of eight planned dams in the Lancang cascade, which has been impounding water since the start of July this year.
"The scheme is reducing any impacts of impoundment as much as possible."
Thailand and Vietnam asked China to provide more information about the day-to-day operations of their dams to see whether there is a need for some sort of warning system for downstream countries.
China also indicated its willingness to provide experts to take part in a Strategic Environmental Assessment that the MRC is carrying out on the proposed mainstream hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong Basin. Part of this assessment includes the development of design guidance for developers in constructing dams, so that they minimise or mitigate environmental problems. The MRC says that the details of this design guidance will be made available to developers in coming months.
The Chinese delegation made a series of other presentations on Mekong/Lancang navigation and water resource use and agreed to increase upstream analysis of hydrological data to contribute to the MRC's flood warning system. It renewed its commitment to supply hydrological data from the upstream Jinghong monitoring station.
Referring to an agreement made last year to provide hydrological information about the Lancang/Mekong River in the flood season between the MRC and the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Diao Mingsheng, Head of the Chinese Delegation said "In implementation of the Agreement, China will continue to provide assistance to the Lower Basin countries to guard against floods."
The meeting also heard from a MRC expert who said that the sharp rise in Mekong water level in Vientiane in early July were not caused by upstream dams, but high rainfall in tributary watersheds. The water level in the mainstream rose from 2.16 meters to 9.23 metres, in just seven days.
"It is clear that Chinese dams were not a major contributor to the unusual rise in water levels in Vientiane this year. Such events like this highlight the need to further share information with both member countries and our upstream neighbours to better understand the hydrology of the basin," said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Mekong River Commission. "We need to establish more hydrometeorological stations to get better information about rainfall and water levels and I look forward to discussing with both China and Myanmar as to how we can make this happen."
Representatives from China and Myanmar attended the Dialogue Meeting, which is an annual event whereby the MRC engages with its Dialogue Partners on its cooperation framework and discusses how the four member states of MRC—Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam—can increase their cooperation with upstream neighbours. Many of the delegates also attended the MRC’s Joint Committee Meeting, which will continue until Thursday.
Photos are available upon request
The MRC is engaged with the Chinese Government to facilitate technical cooperation and ensure that downstream river changes due to hydropower development are managed appropriately. China and Burma are not part of the MRC, despite being Mekong countries. However, they remain dialogue partners and take an active role in information sharing and co-operation with the four member countries; Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment mentioned in the story above will build on the work undertaken by various MRC programmes, including the fisheries, navigation and agricultural programmes as well as its existing Basin Development Planning process. Country-level consultation process will be through the National Mekong Committees (NMCs) and include engagement with a wide selection of civil society and private sector views. It will look at (i) Mekong mainstream hydropower development in the context of regional energy planning; (ii) affected people; (iii) fisheries and barrier effects of dams on fish migration; (iv) maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity; (v) river morphology and sediment balance, and (vi) water quality and salinity intrusion on the Mekong River.
The MRC is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members include Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. It deals with all river related sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management and preserving important ecosystems. Superimposed on these are the future effects of more extreme floods, prolonged drought and sea level rise associated with climate change. In providing its advice, MRC aims to facilitate a broad range of dialogue among governments, the private sector and civil society on these challenges.
Dignitaries present at the meeting included:
Mme. Monemany Nhoybouakong
Water Resources & Environment Administration
Member of the MRC Joint Committee for the Lao PDR
Chairperson of the MRC Joint Committee for 2009/2010
H.E. Mr. Pich Dun
Vice-Chairman, Cambodia National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Joint Committee for Cambodia
Mr. Phonechaleun Nonthaxay
Alternate Member of the MRC Joint Committee for Lao PDR
Director-General, Lao National Mekong Committee
Dr. Le Duc Trung
Secretary General, Viet Nam National Mekong Committee
Member of the MRC Joint Committee for Viet Nam
Mr. Diao Mingsheng
Permanent Representative of China to UNESCAP
Head of Delegation of China
Mr. Ko Ko Oo
Director, Directorate of Water Resources & Improvement of River System
Head of Delegation of Myanmar
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