Hydropower is considered a source of clean renewable energy. This has led to an explosion of dam construction in the Mekong region. But the costs are becoming increasingly clear, particularly in Thailand and Vietnam, which have by far the largest number of dams. Downstream, dike and canal construction in the Mekong Delta has helped Vietnam become the world’s second largest rice exporter. But as with dams, the costs of this narrow-minded approach have become apparent.
These questions were addressed at a screening of two films, one on dams and one on delta development, for 27 journalists in Can Tho on August 8, 2014. The screening was organized by the Finnish-funded Mekong Water Dialogue (MWD), coordinated by IUCN, and the South West Steering Committee (SWSC) in Can Tho.
These two films, entitled “Mekong” and “Mekong-the Delta, Vietnam”, were made by Douglas Varchol, an independent film maker, with funding from the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, IUCN, Sida, and AusAid.
In welcoming the journalists, Nguyen Quoc Viet, SWSC Vice-Chair, emphasized the challenges that the delta faces from infrastructure development and climate change: “I hope through this event, you will gain a broader view to write informative articles that can contribute to the efforts of policy education and advocacy that are being made by government”.
This was the first time we had shown the film to journalists. Although some of the journalists were familiar with the debate over dams, 90% of them said that the films have given them a better understanding of the costs and benefits of hydropower. “The films provided a comprehensive view of natural resources and livelihoods in the Mekong Basin. It helped me better understand the threats and challenges we face as more dams are built. It strengthens my belief that the cost of dams is unbearable. All countries need to diversify our energy sources. The objectiveness of the director really convinced me,” said Ms. Le Hoa from VOV Can Tho.
Dr. Dao Trong Tu, a panelist at the screening, emphasized the need for regional cooperation to ensure that hydropower causes no significant harm on other countries and that such developments adhere to the principles of international laws such as the U.N. Watercourse Convention, which came into effect on August 17 after Vietnam ratified the convention earlier this year.
Ngoc Thien from Vietnam News Agency asked why the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is recommending the expansion of the third rice crop in the delta when so many scientists are arguing against it.
Journalists were inspired by public resistance in Thailand to the Pak Mun dam. “Why did people in Thailand go on strike to protest against hydropower but local communities in our Mekong Delta are so silent and indifferent?” asked Truong Ca from Investment Magazine. There is a need for journalists to raise their voices on behalf of the delta’s inhabitants.
Our audience survey showed that all the participants want to see more environmental films on TV. One even stated that “TV channels should reduce time spent on entertainment programs. Instead, they should show more films about environmental education or the consequences of overexploiting natural resources”. IUCN and its partners will do our best to meet this need!