Mekong nation leaders look to extend environment plan
PHNOM PENH ENVIRONMENT ministers from the six nations that comprise the Greater Mekong Subregion group agreed on Thursday to extend to 2016 a plan linking development with concerns for the environment.
The six are: Cambodia, China, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The original five-year program agreed in 2005 was designed to bring under one roof efforts that balanced development with protection for the environment.
Final approval rests with heads of government, who are scheduled to meet at a GMS summit in December.
The original 30-milliondollar cooperation programme, known as the Core Environmental Program and Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative, is scheduled to expire on December 31.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told delegates that environmental issues had become “a hot topic” on the global agenda particularly in relation to energy.
“Energy is vital for economic growth, vital for development, but also poses a great environmental risk,” Hun Sen said, before alluding to a recent regional spat with Cambodia’s northern neighbour Laos about the proposed Xayaburi dam on the mainstream of the Mekong.
Laos recently announced it would postpone construction of the dam for further assessment of its potential impact following a storm of criticism over its earlier unilateral decision to go ahead with building it.
Experts fear the 3.8-billiondollar dam would cause significant damage to fish stocks, which are a vital source of protein for some of the poorest people in the region, and which would also damage water and sediment flow.
“All member countries have to strengthen cooperation over water resource management on the Mekong River, which is a matter of life and death for people living (along its length),” Hun Sen said.
Sanath Ranawana, the senior natural resources specialist at the Asian Development Bank, which manages the program, said the GMS area was growing rapidly.
“So this programme is quite important and crucial for balancing what this region might do in the future - (for) development in the future - with how it can manage its resources in a sustainable way,” he said.
Ranawana said the new program would link a number of key development areas to the environment, such as energy, agriculture, tourism and transport.
“The countries recognize very well that environment is an integral aspect that they need to take care of,” he said.
“The ecosystem services that are generated from the conservation landscapes are what underpin the whole economic programme.”