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Fight to save Mekong rapids

The Nation, Published on Jan 21, 2004 Villagers in Chiang Khong yesterday called on authorities to scrap the planned blasting of Mekong River rapids over fears it will harm both the river's ecosystem and their livelihoods. The Office of Environmental Policy and Planning (OEPP) yesterday organised a public forum to gauge local opinion over the proposed blasting of the river's Khon Pi Luang rapid between Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen districts. The blasting of the rapid is part of a 2001 agreement between Burma, China, Laos, and Thailand called the Navigation Channel Improvement Project under the LancangMekong River Project. It was initiated by China and allows for the removal of rapids along the 5,594kilometre Mekong. The agreement covers an 886km section in southern China and Luang Prabang in northern Laos. This section contains more than 100 shoals, rapids and reefs. Local villagers have long opposed the blasting of Khon Pi Luang and other rapids, fearing it will lead to further riverbank erosion, disrupt water patterns and harm both the ecosystem and endangered fish species. “What concerns us the most is the provision under the agreement that prohibits fisheries and the use of logs and other materials that flow along the river, which villagers have been making use of for generations,” said Niwat Roikaew of the Rak Chiang Khong conservation group. The government suspended blasting plans last April because of borderdemarcation concerns with Laos. The Defence Ministry feared the removal of the rapid would change the waterway, affecting the main navigable channel and a natural boundary between the two countries. Concerns over the environment as well as social and cultural issues led the Cabinet to order the OEPP to look into the project. Chainarong Settachua, director of the Chiang Maibased Southeast Asia Rivers Network, yesterday called on the OEPP to include villager concerns in its report. Mukdawan Sakboon,

The Nation, Chiang Khong


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