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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - October 11, 2002: China's Plan for Dams Called Threat to Mekong River - 2002-10-10

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Several southeast Asian countries are concerned about China’s plans to build dams along the Mekong River. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam share the lower area of the Mekong. Environmental experts say Chinese dams threaten people, wildlife and water systems on the river.

The Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world. It is four-thousand-eight-hundred kilometers long. It flows through China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

More than sixty-million people depend on the Mekong for food, water and transportation. The yearly periods of floods and dry conditions are important for the production of rice and vegetables. The Mekong also supports many different kinds of fish.

But environmental activists say this system is threatened. During the past ten years, more than one-hundred large dams have been proposed for the Mekong. Groups such as the Asian Development Bank have proposed these dams. Some of these projects have already been built.

Environmental experts say one of the greatest threats is China’s plan to build eight dams along the upper Mekong River. Two of these dams already have been completed. China began building the third dam in January.

China says these dams can produce power on the Mekong without harming the flow of the river system. It says the dams will reduce flooding and water shortages in the countries in the lower part of the Mekong.

But environmental experts say the dams could increase flooding, harm the fishing industry, damage the environment and block transportation links. Flooding on the Mekong has killed hundreds of people in the past two years. That number is expected to rise as the water flow changes. Experts say the worst effects could happen in Cambodia and Laos. These poor countries have become dependent on Chinese investment and aid.

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are part of the Mekong River Commission, based in Phnom Penh. The group manages development projects and protection of the Mekong River. China has refused to join the group. The governments of the commission are said to be too fearful of China to make any public protest about its development plans.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.