CHIANG RAI – Environmentalists, led by Chirasak Inthayot, coordinator of the Hong Hien Mekong River Network, have expressed grave concerns over an alleged plan by Laos to remove three islets on the Mekong River.
The Hong Hien Mekong River Network petitioned Chiang Rai’s Marine Department asking it to look into the matter as they fear the plan would cause significant damage to the environment.
Mr Chirasak told the Bangkok Post he also wanted the department to assess how Northern Thailand would be effected by the alleged plan to blow up the inlets to allow larger cargo ships to navigate the Mekong river more safely.
China has sent three survey vessels to help Laos conduct studies of islets that China wants removed. They are located approximately 100 kilometers away from Chiang Rai’s Wiang Kaen district.
Mr. Chirasak said the Hong Hien Mekong River Network has also petitioned the Mekong River Commission to intervene, stating any action taken along the river must be approved by all the MRC’s members.
Islets in the Mekong River are known breeding areas for various species of freshwater fish, including the rare giant catfish. Ecological systems and people’s food security and livelihoods would be put at serious risk if all the islets in Lao territory were destroyed for shipping.
In 2003 China destroyed all islets along the Mekong River located in its territory to clear the way for shipping heading to the Lower Mekong Region.
With massive hydro Dam construction projects already threatening fish stocks on the lower Mekong river, damage to the islets would only further hinder peoples livelihoods.
Chirasak suspects China might be putting pressure on Thailand to remove Khon Phi Long, the country’s biggest river islet in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district to allow access for bigger vessels.
Meanwhile, the Laotian government is determined to press ahead with the Don Sahong dam project, despite objections from downstream nations. The Lao government claims to see no reason why it should hold back on developing a shared river when China is already doing so.
The effects of existing Chinese dams are apparent to many across the Mekong from Laos in the sleepy northern Thailand town of Chiang Khong, which once bustled with hundreds of fishing boats. Now it’s mainly a point for petty border trade and for backpackers on their way to Luang Prabang, the old Lao royal capital.
MRC members have been bitterly divided over unilateral damming of the Lower Mekong. Cambodia and Vietnam want independent scientific studies before any dam goes ahead.
Increasingly the Mekong’s future looks bleak. The MRC has no right of veto over what many NGOs view as a destructive dam-building spree.
Pianporn Deetes, a campaigner with International Rivers, an advocacy group, said the Mekong will be irreversibly damaged within the next decade without a binding agreement to control development.