15 and 16 of September 2014 at Kor Tai Village, Pibun Mangsaharn District, Ubon Rachathani Province, marked important gathering days of the representatives from fishing community networks in Cambodia and Thailand.For the first time, people affected by Pak Mun Dam, who have spent 26 years struggling with impacts of dam,
have the chance to host a visit for representatives from fishing communities along the Mekong River and Cambodia’s Great Lake, Tonle Sap.
This important gathering with great solidarity confirms our commitment in sharing and voicing on the great impacts related to current situations of large-scale hydropower dams being built along the Mekong mainstream and its tributaries.
We, therefore, come together to state our concerns, demands, and commitment toward the issue we believe to be the most important cross-border issue for all of us.
The livelihoods of many fishing communities in the Mekong region rely completely on the Mekong River, its tributaries, and the great Tonle Sap Lake. The free-flowing rivers and great nature of Tonle Sap provide us fish and nutrients to feed the soil in the natural forests and agricultural lands. Our rivers and lake are the foundation of our living cultures and the way of life. Our economy, from fishing to agriculture to tourism is nourished by the rivers. The flooded forests along the Mekong, its tributaries, and Tonle Sap also provide other means of livelihoods, including herbal medicines and food, a major security for the life of the people who live in many fishing communities. Without this ecosystem, many people especially those who have no agricultural land will not be able to maintain their lives, families and the means of their livelihoods. The loss of our natural resources therefore means the end of our lifeline and the collapse of the fishing communities.
The lower Mekong mainstream and Tonle Sap together produce 2,100,000 tons of freshwater fishes per year and feed the lives of at least 6 million people in the basin. Major Mekong tributaries, including Mun River in Thailand, Sesan River in Cambodia and Vietnam and Theun River in Laos, are all known as the richest areas in fishery resources. Tonle Sap is also one of the very unique and most valuable fishing grounds. Located in central Cambodia, Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater fishing area in South East Asia with nearly four million people living in the proximity of the lake. In 2013, freshwater fish products are approximately 368,000 tons. The system of Tonle Sap depends directly on Mekong water, especially for the spawning and migration of fish. Without maintaining the good health of the Mekong, the health of Tonle Sap will also be jeopardized.
During the past few decades, the Mekong River, its major tributaries, and Tonle Sap are threatened by the emerging large-scale hydropower dams. China takes the lead by building the first mega-dam on the Mekong mainstream to produce electricity and recently finishes the sixth Mekong mainstream dam. Since the beginning of the construction of the first dam, lower Mekong fishing communities have witnessed dramatic changes in water level and a continual decrease in fish. Mekong tributaries face similar problems with the construction of Pak Mun Dam on Mun River; Yali Falls Dam on Sesan River; and Nam Thuen 2 Dam on Theun River. The severe impacts of dams on the people and the riverine ecology bring a new era of suffering for many fishing communities in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR. The unnatural conditions of the Mekong and its tributaries push the people to take action all over the region. These concerns are raised not only within the Mekong region, but also among other South East Asian countries. The struggles and concerns are shared by regional and international groups. Yet, the problems related to dams in the Mekong Basin remain unresolved.
Despite existing severe cross-border impacts and concerns raised by many groups, most of the hydropower dams in the Mekong Basin are still planned and proposed solely by the government who remains the only decision-maker. However, it is the people within the fishing communities including those in the countries upstream and downstream of the dams, who are the ones to bear the impacts.
Fishing communities in Cambodia and Thailand have experienced destructive changes created by Yali Falls Dam and Pak Mun Dam until today. Both projects illustrate a complete failure to provide affected communities access to information or to engage them in public consultations. Instead, they are left to struggle with severe impacts beyond what the dam plan predicted. In the case of Yali Falls Dam, the lack of cooperation between Cambodian and Vietnamese governments, companies, Cambodian civil society, communities and the public proves how little the Mekong governments pay attention to or share their concerns on the impacts of large-scale hydropower dams with affected communities. In the case of Pak Mun Dam, after 17 governments and 26 years of struggle, the Thai government is still unable to solve the problems and opens the dam gates as promised. Pak Mun fishing communities still have to negotiate and protest every year until now.
The unnatural fluctuation of Mekong River is another major concern we share. The continual unprecedented rise and fall of Mekong River throughout the basin hurt fish species and reduce their population. Riverbank farming is damaged as unseasonal floods inundate our crops and take away the shoreline. What happened to Thai Mekong communities at the end of 2013 and the beginning of February 2014 support our belief that dams are the main cause of these unnatural rise and fall of our rivers. Without any change of the process in dam building, we believe we will have to face with heavier conditions as the years pass.
We consider the impacts of China’s Mekong dams and the continuation of the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dam by the Lao government together with the Thai and Malaysian companies the most urgent problems facing our communities today. The process of building the Xayaburi Dam and Don Sahong Dams in Lao PDR has already been a repeat experience of the lack of participation from fishing communities. The Don Sahong Dam will detriment fish migration and destroy fish habitats of both the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap. The benefits of the dams will be far less than their impacts of dams the fishing communities. It will therefore worsen the problems we are already facing from China’s dams.
We insist that any act to prevent the people in Mekong countries from knowing about the dams or prohibiting them from raising their voices against the projects is a complete violation of human rights and our basic rights.
We believe the people of the Mekong Basin are the owner of the river and riverine resources. We believe the people of the Mekong Basin have the rights to protect our rivers and Tonle Sap from any act that may destroy them.
We insist that any dam in the Mekong Basin that may grab or take away our resources will not be allowed by us the people.
We, therefore, jointly declare that we oppose all large scale hydropower dams in the Mekong Basin.
We, the Fishing Community Networks, call for the following:
To the Lao government: the Lao government must immediately revise Lao’s decisions to build the Xayaburi Dam and the Don Sahong Dam and must allow a clear cross-border study. In conducting the cross-border impact study, the people from Mekong communities must be involved in the whole process. All construction of any dam must be halted during the study.
To the government of all countries in the Mekong Basin: All the governments must listen to the voices that say “NO” to dam projects. The government has full responsibility to immediately take action to stop all existing and planned dams in the Mekong Basin.
To investors and dam businesses: Businesses have to stop any investment in dam construction in the Mekong Basin. The agreement with the government cannot be used as the only reason to invest on dams in our rivers.
To International Financial Institute (IFI) and commercial banks: Stop providing further in providing loans to any dam construction companies. Previous experiences, such as the construction of the Pak Mun Dam with the money from World Bank, need to be used and significantly learned from.
To civil society and the public: We, the Mekong fishing community, hope for your recognition of the impacts of Mekong hydropower dams, despite the widespread promotion of dams as the source of energy. We ask for your support to join us the people’s movement to stop all dams in the Mekong Basin.
The existing sustainable livelihoods of the fishing communities in the Mekong Basin are one of the key indicators to maintain the Mekong River’s life. We, the members of fishing communities in the Mekong Basin, are committed to working together to protect our rivers and our own lives. We believe that only when our voices are heard and really considered can the Mekong River remains to feed the people in the region. We recognize that this task is not only to maintain the most important area for natural habitats and food security for the Mekong region but also for South East Asia and the world.
To deny the people the opportunity to make their voices heard means the governments of the Mekong countries are leaving the people with dying fishing activities and other means of livelihoods. It means leaving us with insecurity in our food, our physical bodies, and our minds. This situation needs to be ended before it becomes a problem impossible to resolve.
Cambodia Community Fishery (CCF), Cambodia
The Village Committee for Mun River Basin Livelihood Recovery, Thailand
Pak Mun Dam case, Assembly of the Poor, Thailand
The Assembly of Mekong District Community in Samrong Sub-district, Phosai District, Ubon Rachathani Province, Thailand
Fishery Action Coalition Team (FACT), Cambodia
Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA)