HANOI (AFP) – Nations around one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong, are tightening transport and other links but have neglected the region’s very heart — the river itself, a Cambodian minister said Friday.
At a meeting of the six countries surrounding the Mekong, Cham Prasidh said the potential of the 4,800-kilometre (2,976-mile) river has been neglected as the region develops road links and “economic corridors”, which he likened to arteries.
“But we forget the heart and the Mekong River is the heart. We need to develop the heart first,” he told AFP after making his suggestion to a conference of fellow ministers.
“I think this is a new concept but this is something that is going to strike them all, because we have overlooked the main thing, in the Mekong.”
Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce, was speaking at the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) conference.
GMS is an Asian Development Bank-supported programme that began 18 years ago to promote development through closer economic links. Along with Cambodia it includes Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as China’s Yunnan province and the Chinese Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Cham Prasidh said the Mekong should be developed for river transport to enable trade, while the livelihoods of people living along it should be enhanced.
He also proposed that agriculture around the river be developed in accordance with an ecosystem that is changing because of global warming.
The Mekong begins in the Tibetan Plateau, flows through China, along the northeastern border of Myanmar, and then marks the Thai-Lao frontier before pouring into the heart of Cambodia and ending at the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.
More than 300 million people live in the area surrounding the Mekong.
Cham Prasidh said it was too soon to assess the cost of developing the Mekong River as an economic corridor but added that it would be “quite a huge project” which he hoped the Asian Development Bank and others would support.
“Actually… the transportation of all the goods through the Mekong River should be the cheapest way of transport” once it is cleared of rocks and obstacles, he said.
“By so doing we also open the door for Laos, from being a landlocked country to open it to the sea.”
No other ministers mentioned the Mekong in their opening remarks, except for Thailand’s lead delegate who mentioned a need for “better management” of the river.
Delegates were expected later Friday to endorse a plan for connecting regional rail lines, which Cham Prasidh said would be another cheap way of transporting goods to the Mekong nations and beyond, to other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The plan cites four possible ways of connecting the railways but it says the most viable route would stretch from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, then Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and finally up to Nanning and Kunming, largely using existing lines or those already under construction.
The only missing link on that route would be between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, it says, estimating a cost of 1.09 billion dollars for completion.
This does not include roughly seven billion dollars in additional funding needed to upgrade the existing lines.
By 2025, an estimated 3.2 million passengers and 23 million tonnes of freight are forecast for the completed route, the document says.
Although they are growing fast, the Mekong nations — except for Thailand — have the lowest per capita gross domestic product among the 10 ASEAN members.
Source: according yahoo.com