By Pav Suy
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2015
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Environmental groups yesterday urged the government to seek greater legal clarity among the Mekong River countries about how they should share its resources.
They want the government to ratify a UN treaty that gives legal clarity in using the resources while at the same time respecting national interests.
The groups met members of the National Assembly seeking better clarity and certainty with international water treaties, especially among the six Mekong countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In recent years, the lower Mekong basin countries have demanded further study on the 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam in Laos that they claim will disrupt the river ecosystem.
Controversial hydropower dams – such as the Don Sahong – are potentially putting biodiversity and local communities at risk and have an impact on countries downstream.
In 2013, the Cambodian government published a study that said if all the proposed dams along the Mekong were built, combined with average population growth, the availability of fish and protein per citizen here would fall by 50 percent between now and 2030.
“The UN Watercourse Convention is the only treaty that manages the distribution of water resources that all countries all over the world can extract for use,” Pol Ham, chairman of the National Assembly commission charged with water.
“It assembles three important principles: reasonable and equitable use, duty to avoid considerable harmful effects and conservation of ecological system.
“It also includes conflict resolution mechanisms functioning as a map for all parties to choose this convention to deal with potential conflicts. It help strengthens the existing laws and agreements such as the 1995 Mekong Agreement.”
The convention was approved by the UN General Assembly in 1997 and came into force in 2014 when Vietnam became the 35th country to ratify it.
Cambodia, along with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, signed the Mekong Agreement in April 1995 that outlined the sustainable development of the Mekong River basin after several decades of wars and civil strife. The agreement was seen globally as a symbolic change, moving toward a new period of peace and prosperity.
“The last 20 years has seen the unprecedented growth in economic development in all the four countries. This is a huge achievement. Tens of millions have been moved out of poverty,” said Jake Brunner, program coordinator of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
He said that agreement was vague and non-binding, lacked substance and cannot protect the whole basin.
“However, the agreement was really a statement of intent. It talks a lot of what the countries would like to see achieved. It is the ambitious goals, but it talks little of those goals that are to be achieved,” Mr. Brunner said.
“There are disputes going on in the region over the big dam centered on the ambiguous and non-binding nature of rules and regulations that are written in the agreement. What has been written in the agreement can be interpreted in different ways.”
Hou Sry, vice chairman of the same Assembly commission and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) pledged to push the Assembly to adopt the UN Convention.
But Mr. Brunner called for caution, saying the agreement has a long road ahead of it before it is adopted.
“I am sure it’s going to take several years to build political consensus to ratify the convention,” he said.