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Mekong countries – of dams and other domestic woes

Updated On: Mar 06, 2007

Excluding Thailand, the countries along the Mekong River are among the poorest in Southeast Asia (and the world).

Together with poverty comes with it other various non-traditional security issues that need to be highlighted. 

In the past weeks, a global campaign has been launched to dissuade the Thai government from building new dams along the Salween River. The Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) is planning to construct five dams along the Salween River. As part of the campaign, peaceful protests were held in front of the Thai embassy in 10 cities including WashingtonNew YorkParisSydneyJakarta and Manila. A petition with more than 1,500 people from 232 domestic and international organizations has also been organized. 

At least 83,000 villagers from Shan, Karenni and Karen states of Myanmar are likely to be affected by the construction of the dams. Many of these villagers live along the Salween River Basin in order to hide from the Myanmar government. If the dams are built, the displaced villagers are likely to flee to Thailand, adding to the 140,000 registered refugees along the Thai-Myanmar borders.

In Myanmar, life is hard not only for those hiding from the government. Even for those living in Yangon, life is becoming unbearable. On Thursday 22 February, a group of about 25 people marched in Yangon, urging the government to improve health care, education and provide solutions to the rising costs of living. The protestors were arrested but freed without charge on Tuesday 27 February. They also had to sign an undertaking not to hold any future public demonstration without first obtaining official permission. One of the protestors, May Win, said, “I told the police that we have no intention to incite unrest but were honestly expressing concern over the hardship and rising consumer prices that we, housewives, are currently facing.”

However, troubles are not confined to Myanmar. The subregion, as a whole, is facing the threat of the H5NI bird flu virus. Last week, the first case of bird-flu was reported in Myanmar. Since then a total of 1,300 chickens suspected of carrying the H5N1 virus have been culled as an initial response by the authorities to deal with the outbreak. On Monday, the Myanmar government claimed that the 26 dead crows, quails, pigeons and sparrows found in Yangon did not test positive for bird flu. This outbreak of bird-flu comes six months after Myanmar declared itself bird-flu free in September 2006.

In both Laos and Vietnam, the problem is more serious. Laos has reported its first “probable” bird flu human casualty on Sunday (4 March 2007) afternoon. Earlier, on 27 February 2007, the Lao Health ministry and the WHO confirmed that a 15 year old girl from Vientiane had reported positive for H5N1 virus. The girl is currently receiving medical treatment in a hospital in Nong Khai, a Thai city across the Mekong River.

In Vietnam, the director of the animal department of the Vinh Long province announced that tests had confirmed that nearly 70 ducks found dead in a farm had the H5N1 virus. As a precaution, the other 730 ducks which were part of the same flock were culled to prevent the virus from spreading. The re-emergence of the bird flu in Vietnam was a blow to the government after much concerted efforts in controlling it had rendered it bird flu free for almost a year. But perhaps it is a reflection that the virus has been entrenched in the region and careful monitoring and regional cooperation is all that essential to prevent it from developing into a real pandemic. (5 March 2007)

Sources:

Laos Report First “Probable” Bird Flu Death (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 5 March 2007)

No New Bird Flu Virus Detected on Dead Fowls in Myanmar (Xinhua, 5 March 2007)

Measures Taken As To Deaths of Fowls and Birds in Townships of Yangon Division (New Light of Myanmar3 March 2007)

Bird Flu Outbreak Spreads in Vietnamese Poulty (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2 March 2007)

Dams will Displace Thousands (Nation, 2 March 2007)

The Invisible Costs of the Salween Dam Project (Nation, 1 March 2007)

Global Rallies Against Salween Dams; Villagers Along River Fear Lives Will Be Ruined (Bangkok Post, 1 March 2007)

Demonstrators Detained for Rare Myanmar Protest Released without Charge (Associated Press, 27 February 2007)