05/18/2022, 17.43
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Better conditions help the Mekong River rebound

by Steve Suwannarat

Upstream dams release more water thanks to Increased rainfall in the first months of the year. Despite positive developments, like improved biodiversity, river basin water levels remain below average and gains could be temporary without an accord among riverine countries.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The environmental conditions of the Mekong River are improving; however, environmental groups warn that recent positive developments could only be temporary in the absence of incisive and coordinated measures by riverine countries.

After four years of drought and reduced flow, the first four months of 2022 saw greater rainfall upstream in China allowing the release of more water from the dams.

According to the Mekong River Commission, an inter-governmental organisation created in 1995 to foster regional cooperation between Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, these two factors combined to unleash greater flows of sediment and nutrients, which are crucial to boost fish supply and bolster agriculture.

“This gives us hope that the Mekong is recovering and replenishing,” said Dr Winai Wangpimool, Director of the MRC Technical Support Division.

However, “this doesn’t eliminate the risk of moderate drought,” he added. In fact, July could bring more drought to parts of the river, most notably in northern and southern Laos, western Cambodia and Vietnams central highlands.

The Mekong, the largest river in Southeast Asia, crosses five countries (China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) and directly impacts the lives of at least 70 million people.

Its biodiversity, the greatest in the world, is threatened by the exploitation of its waters along its 4,350 kilometres.

Southeast Asia faces an “unprecedented challenge,” warns Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun, MRC Secretariat CEO. “Our wetlands are disappearing, nourishing sediment is reduced, and rising salinity is spoiling rice crops.”

Despite this year’s marked improvement, water levels remain far below the annual average of the last 60 years (1961-2021), below even the average for the 2008-2017 period. And last year’s rainy season was shorter by a month, four (July-October) instead of five months.

Of course, more precipitation brings an increased risk of torrential rains and flash floods.

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Damming the Mekong: water and food at risk for millions of people
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