MRC Makes ‘Historic Breakthrough’ on Hydropower and Environment After Years of Talks

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) announced Tuesday the approval of a “milestone” document revising preliminary design guidance for hydropower projects and separate new guidelines on cross-border environmental impact assessments.

“This is a historic breakthrough for MRC cooperation after years of discussion,” said Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Executive at the MRC Secretariat in Vientiane.

“The two guidelines point out exactly what to do in minimising cross-border environmental impacts,” Dr Anoulak said.

“Members will see how beneficial the guidance is, not just to their own country and local communities, but in working together with their neighbours.”

The revised design guidance seeks to minimize impacts on ecosystems and communities while the environmental guidelines aim to measure how a project in one country affects a neighbouring country.

Dr. Anoulak said the updated guidance was “gearing us toward projects that are both economically viable and environmentally friendly (and) more protective of the river’s resources, while safeguarding of people’s livelihoods.”

A statement said the revised design guidance would measure how “any large water infrastructure” affects issues that may adversely impact river ecosystems and vulnerable communities at a cross-border or regional level — like water flow, sediment transport, water quality and fisheries.

Talks on revising the design guidance for hydropower projects follow the emergence of gaps in initial guidelines approved in 2009.

These covered six areas — sediment transport and geomorphology, water quality, aquatic life, fish and fisheries, dam safety, and navigation.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FISHING AND FARMING HOUSEHOLDS

Gaps since identified are cross-border aspects of hydrology and hydraulics as well as riparian communities and river-based livelihoods.

“These have implications for the millions of fishing and farming families who somehow rely on the Mekong for daily sustenance,” the statement said.

“For example, hydrology and hydraulics are critical for how they regulate water flow, through the volume of water released or withheld.

“Not only can that affect hydropower projects downriver, but too much of a disturbance can negatively impact both the ecosystem and the socio-economics of millions of Southeast Asians who depend on the Mekong mainstream and its tributaries.”

For existing hydropower projects, the statement said the updated document could guide operations.

“For incoming projects, it can offer guidance for good design, plus effective mitigation measures regarding construction and operation,” it added.

The environmental impact assessment guidelines, completed after 18 years of talks, are expected to supplement each country’s own laws and build trust among the four MRC members — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The MRC Joint Committee — a body comprising senior water and environment officials from the four countries who meet twice a year — approved the two documents at a meeting in Vientiane last Friday.

 

 

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press