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The Mighty Mekong No Longer?

A pair of articles examining the increased tensions between Thailand and China over Mekong River water.  As the first report notes, the Thai government has been quick to blame Chinese dams on the upper stretches of the river, but that may not be fair.

“…The Bangkok Post ran this story on 22 February:

Ever since the completion of a few dams across the Mekong river in China, the once mighty river, which flows through all the riparian countries except China, has diminished to a trickle every dry season. The situation this year is worse than the previous years and the worst is yet to come with more dams being built.

If they were alive today, our forefathers would be in shock. The mighty Mekong – the traditional lifeline of Chinese, Burmese, Thais, Lao, Cambodians and Vietnamese – has dried up so badly this year that it no longer qualifies to be called a river.

Boat travel from Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district to the old Lao capital of Luang Prabang, a popular tourist route has been halted because the water too shallow for boats with the capacity to accommodate more than four people. Cargo boats from China have been stranded in Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai.

Chirasak Inthayos, coordinator of the Network for the Conservation of Mekong River Natural Resources and Cultures, said that the river’s condition is the worst for more than a decade. He could only imagine how much worse it will be by April, when the dry season normally peaks.

This drying up of the Mekong River is attributable to the closure of four Chinese dams in the upper reaches of the river reportedly to conserve water for electricity generation. The southern Chinese province of Yunnan, which borders Burma and Laos, is reported to be experiencing the worst drought in more than 60 years.

It is obvious that the Chinese government could not care less about the hardships it causes people and countries along the Mekong down river from the dams. Beijing is interested only it its own people and its ever expanding industrial, business and farming sectors. …

I’m sceptical about simplified and sensationalist explanations of environmental change. No doubt, the Chinese dams on the Mekong have all sorts of environmental and social impacts, but is there really good evidence to support the claim that they have significantly reduced dry-season flows downstream?”

Then, as this Circle of Blue article reports:

“…The drought was caused by an early end to the monsoon season coupled with lower-than-average rainfalls since September, according to a preliminary assessment by the MRC.

Although Chinese dams have been popular scapegoats for problems of water quantity on the Mekong, the MRC’s assessment focused on climatic factors.

Meanwhile, the Thai government is trying to raise concerns about more coordinated river management with China, which is not a part of the MRC.

“We can see the level of the water is getting lower,” said Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, AFP reports. “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.”

Water levels are expected to continue to drop until late April, according to the MRC report.”

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 13th, 2010 at 4:43 am and is filed under China, Laos, Mekong River, Thailand.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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