China, Not Drought, Getting the Blame for Water Shortages

mekong river photo

Photo via Allie_Caulfield

The worst drought in at least 50 years has hit China but it's not a lack of rainfall that's getting the brunt of the blame from Chinese farmers and neighboring countries. Rather than focus on the seemingly clear scientific evidence that it is indeed the drought that is causing water shortages, people living along the Mekong River are turning their frustration towards the Chinese government and hydroelectric power stations. This weekend, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - countries affected by the lack of water in the 3,000 mile long river running along their boarders - are meeting in Thailand and will discuss the drought and related water problems. According to the New York Times, Thailand is going to ask for "more information, more cooperation and more coordination" from China, which has already started PR work to show that the dams are not sucking up water from the MeKong, but that it's the lack of rainfall that's to blame.

Yet rather than listen to Chinese officials, Pianporn Deetes, a Thai campaigner for the environmental group International Rivers blamed Chinese dams and the blasting of rapids to make the river more navigable for reduced fish catches.

It looks as though unless China becomes much more transparent with information about their river related projects, no one will be fully satisfied to hear that it's just the weather causing a drop in water. Many Thais are simply suspicious, with one professor at the meeting starting a question off to a Chinese diplomat, with: "I realize that it's difficult for you to speak freely -- after this conference you would be fired if you talked freely." It shows that neighboring countries just don't trust the information coming out of China that shifts the blame to a rainless sky.

According to the article, Jeremy Bird, the chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission, and other experts say dams on the lower part of the river, including one planned in Laos, could have a harmful effect on migratory fish, among other problems.

But over all, Mr. Bird said he believed that more dams in China could even out the Mekong's seasonal variations by storing water when it was plentiful and releasing it when scarce.

That makes a little sense, considering the Mekong has the world's greatest variation in flow of any river. However, the damning projects presented by China have certainly been controversial. The dams will cut the water flowing in the lower reaches during flood season by a quarter, and for people who have been dependent on the flow of the river for generations, this spells disaster.

The drought seems to be the perfect reason for those with strong questions about Chinese dams to raise the flag.

More on China and Water Supplies
20% of Mekong Delta Submerged With Rising Seas by 2100 - 10% of Ho Chi Minh City Will Go Under, Too
China's Hydroelectric Plans to Damn the Mekong Threaten Millions
Citing Environment, China Delays World's Longest Aqueduct Project
China's Water Pollution Twice the Officially Listed Levels

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