02/15/2021, 12.20
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Mekong water level drops putting 60 million people at risk

by Tran Hung

Lower water levels are affecting people in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Chinese dams are responsible for the decline, damaging transport, fisheries, agriculture and aquaculture. For the Mekong River Commission, China and other countries must share water discharge plans.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – The level of the Mekong River has fallen to "abnormal" levels, threatening the livelihoods of 60 million people living along its lower course.

The river starts in China and winds its way for 4,350 km, crossing Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is vital for the region and the 200 million people whose lives depend on it, mostly from fishing and agriculture.

In addition to lower rainfall, down by 25 per cent below average since November 2019, Chinese dams have also cut the water flow.

Over the last period, the flow has dropped significantly at the Jinghong dam (Yunnan), which powers a hydroelectric power plant.

Winai Wangpimool, director of the Technical Support Division at the Mekong River Commission Secretariat, points out that the water flow fluctuates considerably between the Jinghong dam and the capital of Laos Vientiane.

This, he explains, will have a strong impact on the communities living downriver. Fishing will suffer in the first place, as the variation in flow affects the migration of fish species, as well as transport, agriculture, aquaculture, and algae harvesting.

Last Thursday, the water flow at Jinghong station dropped to 800 m³/s: the normal level is 1,400 m³/s.

As a result of the reduced flow rate, the level of the Mekong has fallen by one metre in the Thai district of Chiang Saen. In the Vietnamese section between Tân Châu and Châu Đèc the flow fluctuates every day.

China's Water Resources Ministry has justified the reduction in flow with the need to conduct maintenance work.

According to Winai Wangpimool, to avoid risks, China and the other countries involved need to share their water discharge plans with the Commission.

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