Archive for April 3rd, 2010

April 3, 2010

Flood of fears over China’s projects – Did anyone asks Lao PDR why they built too many dams?

TROUBLED WATERS: A woman fishes in the drought-hit Mekong River at Thatkhao village in the suburds of Vientiane, Laos.

Cached: http://beta.thehindu.com/news/international/article381695.ece

Ananth Krishnan

Whether the dams are to blame remains a contested question

China’s dam-building spree along the Mekong river in south-western Yunnan province has raised fears among several of its neighbours, who say the dams have led to shrinking levels of water downstream.

Officials from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, countries which lie in the Mekong basin, will on Sunday voice their concerns over eight dams that China is building along the Mekong, in talks with Chinese officials in Thailand.

The four countries in 1995 set up the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to facilitate joint management and water-sharing in the Mekong region, though China and Myanmar have so far refused to formally join the body. The Mekong runs almost half of its 4,400 km course in China’s south-west, where it is known as the Lancang, before entering Myanmar and Laos.

The MRC’s concerns closely echo those voiced by India in the past over China’s plans to build dams along the Brahmaputra, or the Yarlung Tsangpo as it is known in Tibet. In both cases, China’s position as an upper riparian or upstream-lying state has given it an advantage in controlling the rivers’ resources, say experts. International laws allow China to build hydropower projects that do not divert or substantially alter the course of the rivers, though the absence of robust water-sharing arrangements has led to persisting concerns in several downstream countries, including India, over the future of their water security.

“We can see the level of the water is getting lower,” said Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister, of Thailand, last month. “We will ask the Foreign Ministry to talk with a representative from China in terms of co-operation and in terms of management systems in the region.”

An estimated 60 million people depend on the Mekong river in the five countries that lie downstream. China has already built three dams in Yunnan. Five more are in the works, including the massive $4-billion Xiaowan dam, scheduled to open in 2012, which is the world’s highest dam.

But whether the dams are behind the Mekong’s shrinking levels downstream still remains a much-contested question.

In May, the United Nations Environment Programme warned of a “considerable threat” the dams posed to water management in areas downstream, though China says the course and flow of the Mekong have been unaffected by its projects.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s talks, Chen Mingzhong, deputy Director-General of the Department of International Cooperation at China’s Water Resources Ministry, said on Friday the dry weather in the lower Mekong areas was the “root cause” of the reduced run-off water downstream, and that the dams would help, not hinder, water management. Officials say the river’s flow in China only accounts for 13.5 per cent of its net flow, according to their data.

The Chinese government views the dams as crucial to maintaining water security in its south-west, which is currently facing its worst drought in five decades, affecting more than 24 million people. The government has allocated 27 billion Yuan ($4 billion) to build more reservoirs and dams in Yunnan alone.

“The hydropower stations built on the Lancang River will not increase the chance of flood and drought disasters in the downstream. Instead, it will considerably enhance the capacity of flood control, drought relief, irrigation and water supply for the downstream countries,” Mr. Chen argued.

But his country’s neighbours, however, remain unconvinced.

April 3, 2010

Boycott hits Burma election credibility

By Soe Win Than
BBC Burmese

NLD supporter wear a T-shirt with Aung San Suu Kyi's picture on 29  March 2010

The NLD says the polls are aimed at further entrenching military power

The conclusion reached by Burma’s main opposition group, the National League for Democracy, came as no surprise.

Faced with a requirement to expel its most influential leader, the party opted not to contest the elections, the first Burma will have in 20 years.

The election laws bar anyone serving a prison term from standing in the polls. They also ban those with criminal convictions from becoming members of political parties.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and general secretary of the NLD, was convicted of breaching the terms of her house arrest after an American entered her compound last year.

Both she and the NLD are convinced that the election laws are designed especially to exclude them and more than 2,000 political prisoners.

And if the party were to enter the polls, it would mean accepting the junta’s annulment of the results of the 1990 election. The NLD overwhelmingly won those polls but was never allowed to govern.

U Win Tin, a senior leader of the party said: “If we do not register for the elections, the party will lose limbs, but if we register, we will lose the head. We can replace legs and limbs, but not the head.”

BURMA’S ELECTION
Constitution: 25% of seats in parliament reserved for the military
Constitution: More than 75% approval required for any constitutional change
Election law: Those with criminal convictions cannot take part – ruling out many activists
Election law: Members of religious orders cannot take part – ruling out monks
Election commission: Handpicked by Burma’s military government

The other major complaint of the NLD and pro-democracy parties is the set-up of the future parliament.

Only 75% of parliamentary members will be elected and the remaining 25% will be army officers appointed by the commander in chief.

The commander in chief will be the most powerful figure, with the military’s supremacy constitutionally guaranteed.

The NLD’s calls to change undemocratic clauses in the constitution have been repeatedly ignored.

There are some within the NLD who argue that the party could still become a competitive force in the future parliament and could prevent the legislative body from coming under the absolute control of the military and its affiliates.

But their voice is the minority.

Few options

Though the NLD and a few other key parties have decided to boycott the polls, there are groups planning to set up political parties.

These groups include former activists and politicians. They argued that after waiting for 20 years the opening, however small, should not be missed.

General Than Shwe salutes troops on 27 March 2010

Some groups say they have no choice but to work with the military

“This is not time to talk about what the military want and what the democratic forces want, but to work from what is available at the moment,” said former political prisoner and student activist Phyo Min Thein.

However, public opinion towards these groups is not particularly favourable. A Rangoon resident told the BBC that some of these groups were seen as opportunists playing along with the junta for personal gain.

Pro-junta groups are also planning to fill the numbers in parliament. Even some cabinet ministers have been campaigning openly for votes.

In the absence of the NLD, the voters are at a loss to decide who they can trust.

NLD nuisance

The United Nations has asked the Burmese government to create an atmosphere where all politicians could participate in the elections. It called for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

It is not clear whether the junta really wants to exclude the NLD from the elections.

But the NLD still enjoys huge support in the country and a large number of its representatives in parliament would be a nuisance for the generals.

The NLD’s boycott may perhaps give the generals a convenient excuse to tell the world that the NLD did not take part of its own volition.

But it is unlikely the international community will have failed to notice that the laws are designed to exclude many democracy activists.

The NLD’s decision not to participate means that the credibility of the junta’s polls has disappeared even before they are held.

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