Published: Monday 15 May 1995

A euphemistically named agreement for the "sustainable development of the Mekong river basin" has generated a storm of controversy. The rum- blings were heard almost as soon as the accord was signed between the so-called Lower Mekong countries - Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - in the Ist week of April at Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

Non- governmental organisations (NGOS), holding a parallel meeting at Chiang Rai, immediately sought a review. Phisit Na Phatthalung, secretary general of the World -Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) insisted that the pact should be aimed at sustaining the Mekong rather than exploiting it for Gulf of Thailand development - under what he called the "hidden agendas" of funding agencies like the Asian Development Bank. A key concern is the Joss of the veto powers of the downstream Indochina states regarding diversions of water from the mainstream and its tributaries.

Vietnamese environmentalists too, are apprehensive that the dam will reduce the flow of fresh water into the estuary in Vietnam very quickly... "We will lose everything, including the sustainable economic development that supports the livelihood of the poor people in the Mekong Delta," maintains Le Dien Duc, an expert on wetlands at Hanoi University's Centre for Natural Resources Management and Environmental Studies.

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