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China's Plan for Dams Called Threat to Mekong River

2002-10-10

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Several southeast Asian countriesare concerned about China's plans to build dams along the MekongRiver. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam share the lower area ofthe 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 isfour-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 dryconditions 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. Duringthe past ten years, more than one-hundred large dams have beenproposed for the Mekong. Groups such as the Asian Development Bankhave proposed these dams. Some of these projects have already beenbuilt.

Environmental experts say one of the greatest threats is China'splan to build eight dams along the upper Mekong River. Two of thesedams already have been completed. China began building the third damin January.

China says these dams can produce power on the Mekong withoutharming the flow of the river system. It says the dams will reduceflooding and water shortages in the countries in the lower part ofthe Mekong.

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

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are part of the Mekong RiverCommission, based in Phnom Penh. The group manages developmentprojects and protection of the Mekong River. China has refused tojoin the group. The governments of the commission are said to be toofearful of China to make any public protest about its developmentplans.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written byCynthia Kirk.