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Droughts among key issues facing Mekong countries

More dialogue needed over dam construction and climate change, says river commission

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Droughts among key issues facing Mekong countries

Climate change and dams have resulted in unpredictable wet and dry seasons and upset fish spawning patterns on the Mekong River. (Photo: Ah Ny)

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Improved monitoring of increasing droughts, extensive floods and extreme weather are key issues that need to be addressed by Lower Mekong countries Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) says.

“Flood and drought have hit our region hard lately and require stronger regional collaboration,” MRC secretariat chief executive An Pich Hatda said as the MRC released its annual report on June 16.

“The countries along the Lower Mekong need to step up their collective efforts in addressing the problems facing them now and in the future, for example by ensuring transparency, quality and timeliness in water data sharing.”

He said severe droughts in the Lower Mekong Basin had caused substantial economic losses due to damage caused to agricultural crops, the negative impact on the environment and adverse effects on people’s livelihoods.

About 70 million people depend upon the Mekong River as their chief source of protein and live hand to mouth amid declining fish stocks.

However, the report barely touched on the impact of climate change or dam construction in China and Laos on the waterway. Both have been cited by scientists and environmentalists for contributing to record low water levels and a substantial drop in fish catches.

All five Mekong countries are run by authoritarian, military-backed regimes.

The report said the MRC has taken a step closer in working with various partners to address flood and drought issues. These include China, the Mekong Lancang Cooperation, civil society organizations and affected communities. Lancang is the Chinese name for the Mekong River.

The MRC developed its 2020-25 drought management strategy focusing on five priorities assessed as “poorly functioning” and in need of “immediate attention”.

“They include drought indicator monitoring, drought forecasting and early warning, capacity building in drought assessment and planning, mitigation measures and information-sharing systems,” the report stated.

At least 11 dams are planned for the mainstream of the Mekong River and another 123 are in the works for its tributaries. Xayaburi is the biggest by far and has been widely criticized by fishermen in the delta. More dams are planned.

Last year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out at dam construction when up to seven dams were blamed for obstructing seasonal water flows.

“Extreme low flows and extensive flooding of different communities along the Mekong River in 2019 and an increasing number of droughts that have occurred in many parts of the region in recent years are among the signs that the Mekong region is facing increasing risk,” Hadta said.

“Boosting regional efforts to provide faster and more accurate forecasting on flood and drought and to expand a network of hydro-meteorological monitoring to collect data in the basin are critical in addressing these issues.”

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