The Mekong, the world’s 12th-longest river, stretches 4,350 Kilometres from China in the north to Vietnam in the south, and hosts at least 270 species of fish.
China has been the target of criticism from the international community for its cascade of 11 megadams on the river. The lower Mekong basin experienced severe drought over the past year, with stretches of the river drying up entirely. Thai farmers have previously described the collapse of fish stocks along the Mekong River after China tested equipment at dams in the waterway’s upper reaches.
In October 2020, Beijing agreed to share data with the Mekong River Commission (MRC), as some 60 million people in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam use the river for agriculture and fishing. The MRC is an intergovernmental agency that works with the governments of these four countries to manage the 2,703-mile river’s resources,
This month (January), China described a 20 day water restriction at its southernmost dam on the waterway six days after it started holding back water on December 31st, drawing a mix of credit for sharing data with downstream governments and criticism for not giving Thailand and others advance notice.
“The ministry of water resources of China has notified the Office of Natural Water Resources that it has reduced water discharge from Jinghong Dam on China’s border from 1,904 cu. m. to 1,000 cu. m. per second from January 5th to 24th. After that the discharge will be increased back to normal,” Somkiat Prajamwong, the director of the ONWR said in the statement.
The statement issued on 6th January said that China promised that the river’s flow, held back at the Jinghong Dam, will be gradually restored to its normal operation status on January 25th.
China has previously notified Thailand about such activities at the last minute; not providing Thai authorities enough time to warn local residents. The notifications came shortly after a new U.S.-funded monitoring system revealed that China was holding back water starting on December 31st.
The Washington-based Stimson Center’s Mekong Dam Monitor, which uses satellite imagery to keep tabs on water levels along the Mekong, said water levels were low at several checkpoints in three downstream countries in its update for the week of December 28th to January 4th that will impact fish and farming processes downstream.
Reservoirs in Laos are still at all-time lows and the Tonle Sap gauges show the lake in retreat after an extremely late and short flood season. Cambodia’s Tonle Sap, a large inland lake whose waters ebb and flow with the annual cycle of the river connecting it to the Mekong, has been drying at a rapid rate in recent years, threatening the fish stocks providing millions of Cambodians with their main source of protein.
Brian Eyler, the Monitor’s project lead says that China’s decision to hold back water disrupts the Mekong’s ecology. “The restrictions of water from the downstream are certainly not welcome. They are unusual for this time of year and not part of the Mekong’s natural cycle”.
“We began to get the word out and we alerted the Mekong River Commission. Within 12 hours after our actions, China did provide a notification. So, China’s notification was late. It seemed to be compelled by external actors rather than of its own admission and own volition,” he said.
Eyler has previously said that “The monitor provides evidence that China’s 11 mainstream dams are sophisticatedly orchestrated and operated in a way to maximize the production of hydropower for sale to China’s eastern provinces with zero consideration given to downstream impacts.”
“The Mighty Majestic Mekong River” is a fantastic video made by David Ossie near to Khemmarat which is close to the Laos Border . . .