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Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit
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  1. #1
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    Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit

    Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit
    Villagers fear the worst as the Xayaburi Dam project in Laos takes shape

    Published: 13/03/2011 at 12:00 AM
    Newspaper section: News

    The Mekong River looks a pale imitation of the mighty waterway it once was. The water flows sluggishly in a channel which has shrunken to only a few metres wide in some parts of Loei province.

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    FLOW WITH IT: Bu Pengkham leads villagers in a ceremony to improve the health of the Mekong River in Loei.

    Summer is the time when this section of the Mekong usually dries up. But for Bu Pengkham, a resident of Kok Wao village in Chiang Khan district, the river is already sick.

    On Friday morning, Mr Bu and his fellow villagers tried to improve the health of the river by staging a traditional Isan ritual, earn khwan (a ceremony to

    DHrestore morale or inner goodness in a person).

    The villagers believe that the river is similar to a person who has lost his or her khwan and become ill.

    Mr Bu conducted the ritual. He placed a banana leaf decorated with auspicious drawings in the centre of a circle of villagers who joined the ceremony. Through a microphone, he chanted to the waters, consoling the river's khwan and urging it to return to the river.

    ''If there is anything there that scares you and makes you sick, we'd like it to go away. And khwan, please come back,'' chanted Mr Bu.

    Mr Bu and his fellow villagers make their living from fishing and gardening on the river's banks in the dry season.

    Mr Bu, 70, has seen the Mekong threatened his whole life as river populations increase and threaten its

    dhviability. But nothing worries him more than dam projects, he says. Since he was 12 years old, Mr Bu has heard about dam projects. First Pha Mong in the Laos river section, then Pak Chom and now Xayaburi in Lao's Xayaboury province, about 200km away.

    Construction on the US$3.5 billion (107 billion baht) Xayaburi dam along the Lower Mekong is set to begin next month, despite concerns from environmentalists that it has circumvented proper environmental protection measures.

    Questions have also been raised over whether Thailand, which will be the main consumer of the dam's electricity, really needs the power supplied by the project, which is a joint venture involving the Lao PDR government and Thai company CH Karnchang.

    Mr Bu said that while people may have damaged the Mekong, this was nothing compared to big dam projects.

    The Xayaburi dam would have the biggest impact on villagers of all, Mr Bu said.

    He wants to talk to the people in charge of the project and urge them to consider the livelihoods of river dwellers.

    He wants to explain what the river means to people from the perspective of a person who has lived on it his entire life .

    But Mr Bu has no idea who he should contact. The villagers have no idea who is in charge and who they should turn to, he said. ''When they want to build a dam, they don't tell us a word. Don't they care at all how we will be affected?'' he said. They have never come to us. We never see them.''

    The Xayaburi dam is the first of 11 proposed hydropower development projects along the Lower Mekong.

    Vietnam and Cambodia are opposed to the project, saying it will harm biodiversity and hurt 40 million people who depend on the Mekong for their livelihoods.

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    Re: Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit

    The builders of these dams seem to care nothing for the people it will effect. China, in particular, seems arrogant and uncaring and not the least concerned about environmental impact. I think that the true damage and devastation will only become obvious after the dams are completed and operational. Then it will be too late as the dams will certainly not be dismantled.

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    Re: Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit

    Quote Originally Posted by kfchugo View Post
    The builders of these dams seem to care nothing for the people it will effect.
    This seems so true of many supposedly 'nation advancing, modernizing' projects in developing nations, and consequently the concerns of the affected villagers who usually have no say over the developments' who what when where why and how. Small wonder this theme was also reflected in the Thai box-office movie, Luang Phor Teng II, in which popular local rap star, Joey Boy, played the lead role of how a monk managed to save the community from a company who only cared about profits, not was not in the least bothered by the fact that the rocks they blasted from the mountain atop the village had actually caused the deaths of several people. An exaggeration maybe, but this part of the storyline was actually said to be inspired by a Thai news that a community of monks in a Southern Thailand village was compelled to wear protective helmets due to rocks and stones blasted down the mountain by developers.
    Sleep, little one, close your eyes, mother will sing you a lullaby... Sleep in a jewel cradle, sleep, mother will rock you.
    If you don't sleep the midges will go for your eyes and pollen will fall on the cradle....Sleep, close your eyes...
    - Isaan folksong, from "The Price of a Life" (Onkom, 1997)

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    Re: Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit

    Thanks for replying, everyone. It appears we have a decent cross-section of people here and a lot of well thought-out discussion



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    Re: Mekong residents reach out to river's ailing spirit

    There have been a couple of documentaries on Australian TV over the last few weeks looking at the plight of people living on the Mekong. There have been calls for a 10year moratorium on dam construction to allow for a comprehensive study on the impact of damming the river. The two dams recently constructed and the proposed one at Xayaburi ignored that moratorium proposal and have already had a significant impact on water levels and seasonal flows but the real concern is that several more dams may be constructed. This has the capacity to change forever the ecology and viability of the river and cause famine and drought along its present course. World opinion and concern seems to be (justifiably) growing.

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