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Dams and Dry Conditions Have Weakened Mekong Ecosystems

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Mekong group urges better water management collaboration as record drought persists

In response to three years of record low flows and excessive dryness along the Mekong, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has called on China and lower Mekong countries to better coordinate the management of the Mekong’s hydropower dams and reservoirs.

As a result of increased reservoirs, dams, and other water storage, worsening climate conditions, and unusually low rainfall, the flow of the Mekong River fell to its lowest level in more than six decades from 2019 to 2021, the new MRC river flow report showed.

Tens of millions of people rely on the Mekong for their livelihoods and the dry conditions and dams have weakened river ecosystems and riverbank stability in the past three years.

The Mekong River Commission, which is made up of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, recommends that governments of these countries improve coordination regarding the operation of hydropower dams and water storage in the Mekong basin to ease drought-related effects.

MRC Secretariat Chief Executive Officer An Pich Hatda said addressing these issues together requires proactive cooperation from all MRC member countries, not just China.

The River has at least 13 dams along its 4,350 km (2,700 miles), including 11 in China.

The authorities in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China did not respond to requests for comment regarding the MRC’s call.

Last year, the commission called for enhanced data sharing about hydropower operations between China and MRC member countries to improve river basin management.

Mekong River Commission was established in order to assist the countries of the lower Mekong with finding consensus around solutions that will ensure the Mekong and its people a sustainable future. These include basin monitoring, assessment, data sharing, and dialogue and cooperation.

The People’s Republic of China has been a Dialogue Partner of the MRC since 1996 and has cooperated with the international organisation for the Mekong river basin on a variety of levels, including by providing upstream hydro-meteorological data during the wet season, which MRC claims is essential to flood forecasting.