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Leaders of Mekong nations urged to consider environment at summit

Mar 20. 2016
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By The Nation

PRIME Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will this week join the first summit of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation in China’s Hainan province

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will chair the meeting in Sanya on Wednesday, which will also involve the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

They will discuss the formulation of initiatives and measures under the cooperation.

The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation began in 2014 and its first foreign ministers’ meeting was held in Jinghong, China last November.

At Wednesday’s meeting the discussion will focus on a wide range of issues concerning the Mekong region including political matters, economic cooperation, security, the environment and the cultures of the Mekong countries.

“The five countries are lagging behind in Asean, especially Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said in a press briefing in Beijing last week. “Cooperation will help narrow the development gaps within Asean, and promote prosperity in the sub-region.”

On Wednesday, the leaders of the six countries will endorse major initiatives including the Sanya Declaration of the First Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, the Joint Statement on Production Capacity Cooperation Among Lancang-Mekong Countries and the Tentative Joint List of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Early Harvest Project, according to a Thai government official.

More than 40 projects are listed under the early harvest scheme, which allows countries in the basin to begin projects such as a water utility monitoring system at the Mekong Mainstream and Information Centre.

Mekong countries downstream from China have complained that water levels had been affected by the latter’s Mekong dam projects.

Beijing, in response, agreed to release water from the dams between March 15 and April 10.

Vietnam hailed the decision, as it now has more freshwater to prevent seawater entering the Mekong Delta.

But the release of water created new problems for people living along the Mekong, as levels increased too rapidly in a short period.

Prayoon Saen-ae, a local resident in Chiang Khan district in Loei, said that fishing and tourism in the province had been seriously affected by the sudden change in the water level.

He said many river beaches had been inundated by water, and local vendors who earned a living from tourism during summer were suffering.

Environmental academic Chainarong Sretthachau, from Maha Sarakam University, urged the leaders of the six nations to listen to people living along the Mekong and discuss their problems in Hainan.

He said that before leaving for the meeting, Prayut should meet with locals in the eight provinces along the river and listen to their problems.

Many projects along the Mekong have failed to create sustainable development and had caused “inequality and damaged the environment”, he said.

In a draft of the Sanya Declaration seen by The Nation, the leaders said they would encourage sustainable development while enhancing environmental protection and natural resource management.

The leaders said they would also develop and utilise sustainable and efficient clean energy sources, develop the regional power market, and enhance the exchange and transfer of clean energy technologies.

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