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Mekong River drought may cause a serious famine

2010.04.26 Junji Hashimoto

Blasting was Constant at Xiaowan Dam Site:Creative Commons,Some Rights Reserved,Photo by International Rivers

The water levels of the Mekong River have dropped significantly for the first time in several decades, causing increased tension among the basin countries. Downstream Mekong countries such as Thailand believe that dams being built by China on the upper reaches of the river are responsible for the abnormal drought conditions, but China has disputed this claim by displacing the blame. According to China, the lowest water levels Mekong has seen in the past 60 years are due to the extremely dry conditions experienced across Northern Thailand and Laos, which is also a part of the crucially dry weather experienced in Yunnan Province in Southwest China. China also claims that it has implemented sustainable development strategies with regard to its dam development on the upper reaches of the Mekong, and that it pays due attention to the interests of the countries downstream.

Although China has repeatedly stated that reasonable development and usage of Mekong's water resources will also be beneficial for the countries downstream, it has yet to allay the fears other basin countries are experiencing. As a result of such disputes and discussions, the Chinese government has begun disclosing information on the amount of water its dams have retained, but environmental organizations point out disclosure of recent data has no meaning. These organizations insist that China should supply water retention data that dates back 20 years.

Although the Mekong River Commission (MRC) - comprised of the governments of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos - urges China to rectify its statements, it has also taken a multifaceted stance to alleviate further tension stating that the drought is not only attributable to dams built by China and that factors such as rainfall shortage, growth of population in the Mekong River basin, agricultural and touristic development as well as climate change have also affected the river's water levels.

The situation in the basin is expected to worsen even whilst such discussions take place. Because the water levels of the Mekong River continue to decrease until May every year, the drought may become more serious and have adverse effect on agriculture and fishery. Decline in fish yield may bring on a great famine as it is said that in areas like Cambodia people obtain 80% of their animal protein from freshwater fish.

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Thailand (Asia/Oceania

Junji Hashimoto

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