Civic Groups Press to End Hydropower Development on Lower Mekong River
Civic Groups Press to End Hydropower Development on Lower Mekong River
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Civic groups meeting in Thailand are petitioning regional governments to halt dam construction on two major Southeast Asian rivers.  The groups say the dams threaten food supplies for millions and are leading to human-rights abuses in some areas.

Environmental and human-rights activists say regional governments are looking at an outdated development model for generating electricity that fails to recognize people's rights.  They say the dams do not ensure equitable and sustained development.

The groups are attending a so-called People's Forum before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit later this week.

The environmental group, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, collected more than 20,000 signatures asking governments to abandon plans to build dams along the lower Mekong River.

The petitions are to be presented to the leaders of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which share the river with Thailand.  The activists have asked Thailand's government to abandon the projects.

An alliance representative, Premrudee Daoroung, says the 11 dams on the lower Mekong threaten fishery stocks.

"Our main concern is that if the Lower Mekong mainstream dams happen the fishery for the whole Mekong region will be blocked and fishery is a very thing - it is out of concern that if that [occurs] it will destroy the livelihood of millions of people in the region," said Premrudee.

More than 60 million people in Southeast Asia are dependent on the Mekong River for fishing.  The river starts in Tibet and runs 4,800 kilometers through China and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, more that 50 civic groups from Burma submitted a petition to the Thai government demanding a halt to dam construction on the Salween River between Burma and Thailand.

Five dams have been planned for the Salween - four to deliver power to Thailand and one to supply China.

The groups accuse Burma's military of committing human-rights abuses at a dam site in the country's Karen State and one in Shan State.

The Salween Watch Coalition led the petition drive.  Sai Sai, a coalition spokesman, says the Burmese military has forced thousands of people from their homes.

"Even though [construction of] the dam is just beginning and doing the survey, the military has forced people out from their homes," he said.  "So now more than 70,000 people - including indigenous people - are already relocated out of their home towns.  So right now the affected people in Burma have not been consulted on the dam construction."

Sai Sai says the projects lack transparency and accountability, because the money for them goes to the military government.  The groups want all the dams to be put on hold until Burma has a democratically elected government.