China’s frenzied damming of the Mekong River upstream for hydroelectricity generation has had devastating consequences for people living alongside Southeast Asia’s longest river, experts say. The authors of a new study explain that the cascade of dams on the upper part of the river has altered the natural flow of the Mekong, which has caused grave environmental harm and is threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of people in six countries. The two scientists, Alan Basist and Claude Williams, reached this conclusion by examining satellite data from 1992 to 2019 as well as river height gauge data at Chiang Saen in Thailand. “Currently 126.44 meters of river height is missing at the gauge in Chiang Saen over the 28-year record,” the authors note in their report, which was published by the UN-backed Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership and the Lower Mekong Initiative, a multinational partnership among affected countries. “Huaneng Hydrolancang, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, built a series of dams on the main stem of the Mekong during that time,” they add.
China constructed the first dam on the upper part of the river in 1992 and now operates 11 dams along the Mekong. It is planning to build yet more dams to generate hydropower. The two experts say that river water is stored in large amounts at the reservoirs of the Chinese dams upstream, holding it back from countries downstream. This has led to a permanent alteration in the river’s natural flow, causing “some of its lowest river levels ever throughout most of [last] year,” they write. China has denied these claims. An estimated 200 million people depend on the 4,350-kilometer-long river, which originates in China and passes through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before it empties into the South China Sea in Vietnam. Last year a prolonged drought saw the water level of the Mekong plunge to record lows for weeks on end, jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen and the food supply of riverside communities who rely on the river’s water for agriculture. “China’s dam management is causing erratic and devastating changes in water levels downstream,” notes Stimson Center, a US-based think tank. “Unexpected dam releases caused rapid rises in river level that have devastated communities downstream, causing millions in damage and shocking the river’s ecological processes.” By cutting off water upstream, China is causing massive and irreversible environmental damage to the lower Mekong, stresses Fitch Solutions, an American risk assessment and financial consulting company. “We believe that the resultant threat to food security from this damage will put upside pressure on inflation for countries downstream in the Mekong River,” Fitch Solutions wrote in its own report this year. “The destruction of the natural ecosystem would also spur a shift in economic activity along the riverbanks away from agriculture and towards manufacturing and hospitality services such as tourism.” This trend could deal further blows to the environmental health of the mighty Mekong and to the well-being of people who live alongside it.
Support UCA News...
As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.
That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.
Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.
UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.
We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.
Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...