Bangkok (AsiaNews) Shipping and boat travel along the Mekong, the traditional waterway between China and Thailand, has been suspended due to the huge drop in water levels. This is what state officials and Thai financial operators have said, blaming China's construction of upstream dams. Many shipments and embarkations are thus being held up at the Chiang Saen port in northern Thailand.
The Mekong River extends along a 4500 km course throughout China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. More than 60 million persons live along its shores.
Many of these inhabitants depend on the river for fishing as well as for business and transport. According to the AFP news agency the chairmen of the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, Sermchai Kittiratanapaiboon, said: "Water levels began dropping in February and now some parts of the Mekong are only 90-100 cm deep. We need at least 1.5 meters of water to navigate the river."
The chairman added that a serious drought has made the problem worse, but the main cause is the setting up of a system of dams along the upper part of the river's course.
According to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the river will reach its lowest levels in the last decade. Hence what was once a mighty waterway and traditionally the most important in all of southern Asia has now been reduced to 1/3 of its overall capacity.
According to some MRC environmental experts water levels began to vary downstream after the building of the Manwan dam in 1992.
Surachai Sasisuwan, director of the Thai Ministry of Water Resources, told the Bangkok Post, " We will appreciate it if China would tell us their honest intentions regarding their dams and let us know if they are the cause of the drop in water levels or not."
However, China has no intention of modifying its own policies. The country is currently building two new dams on the Mekong. Meanwhile in China almost all every province is experiencing electricity and water shortages on account of industrial and civil consumption of water, including farmers' use for irrigation purposes. (MdO)