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Mekong summit blames weather, not Chinese dams, for low water levels

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Earlier this week China's neighbors downstream on the Mekong River blamed low rainfall – not China – for the unusually low water levels affecting Southeast Asia's most important river, ignoring claims by environmental activists that dams in Yunnan are damaging the river.

The first Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit was held in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin April 2-5, bringing together top leaders from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to discuss management of the Mekong, which supports the livelihoods of 65 million people in six countries.

Leading up to the summit, activists accused China of adversely affecting its downstream neighbors with dams it has built on the Mekong as it flows through Yunnan, where it is known as the Lancang River. There are currently three operational dams on the Lancang, with at least another five in the planning, construction, or filling stages.

The MRC's support for China was a diplomatic victory for Beijing, but issues still remain.

China was praised for providing information about its dams at Jinghong and Manwan, but it has yet to provide historical hydrological data or information about the operational hydropower station at Dachaoshan or a fourth station upstream at Xiaowan that is currently filling its reservoir.

Historical data would allow for more complete analysis of the effects of dams on water flow. Information about how much water is being stored at Xiaowan would allow the MRC to estimate how much water has been withheld from the Mekong during the drought.

Chinese representatives at the summit said the Lancang only contributes 13.5 percent of the Mekong's water volume and that the three operational dams have helped alleviate the water crisis by storing up water during the rainy season and slowly releasing it at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010.

The MRC has been reluctant to press China about the environmental effects of its dams, which include disruption to migratory fish populations and reduced sediment levels. This may be partly because China is not the only country with dam plans.

Laos is planning to build 23 dams on the river and its tributaries, plus Vietnam and Cambodia are also planning on building their own dams.

In May 2009, a United Nations report said China's dams on the Lancang "may pose the greatest single threat" to the Mekong.

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Comments

In my opinion, for what it's worth, to say that the drying up of the Mekong river is solely the result of the lack of rain is like saying that it's really due to natural evaporation. Of course, without a doubt, the dams are the main reason, and continuing to build these dams will have a catastrophic effect in the very near future.

China's nationalistic bullying tactics of raping the natural environment of other countries in order to develop its own power base is nothing less than criminal.

I'm against the dams, but it really hasn't been raining. Really.

What really happened is all in the above article, though the writer doesn't say it outright. A deal must have been struck before the summit: China gives some of the info it wants and plays nice at the summit if the other countries don't come out and point the finger at them.

It was palatable because the current drought really has to do with the lack of rain.

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