By The Nation
Arthayudh Srisamoot, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, had spoken to Chinese Ambassador Lyu Jian and Laos Ambassador Seng Soukhathivong on Tuesday following a media outcry about farmers suffering and the Mekong River running dry.
“This severe drought is a natural problem because we have had less rainfall this year, but there’s good news, because both China and Laos have agreed to release water from Jinghong and Xayaburi dams to help relieve the crisis,” Don said. “We are grateful for the cooperation from the two neighbours, who have had long relations with us.”
The foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to discuss climate change, drought and other environment issues when they meet their counterparts from the United States, Japan, South Korea and India under several cooperation schemes related to the Mekong next month on the sidelines of the Asean ministerial meeting.
A test-run of the newly built Xayaburi dam in Laos last week caused a partial fluctuation of water levels in the Mekong, a repercussion of less rain in the region this year.
Also, according to information provided by China, the amount of water released from Jinghong Dam in Yunnan province from July 5 to 19 had dropped from 1,050 to 1,250 cubic metres per second (m3/s) to 504 to 600m3/s due to “grid maintenance”.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC), which oversees and regulates Southeast Asia’s longest river, said last week that Mekong water level during the early flooding season, which runs from June to July, was the lowest this year – well below its historical long-term minimum level.
However, the situation is expected to get better towards the end of July, the MRC said in its statement.
From the upper reaches of the lower Mekong basin in Thailand’s Chiang Saen to Laos’s Luang Prabang and Vientiane and then further down to Thailand’s Nong Khai and Cambodia’s Neak Luong, the Mekong water level is well below that of 1992, which was by far the lowest on record.
While the relatively rapid and sustained drop in water levels between June and July has been unprecedented, it does not reflect the natural seasonal flow when during this period the water should be slowly rising.
According to MRC’s analysis and available information, some key factors have been identified as contributing to what is described as the “regional low flow” of the Mekong River Basin.
There has been a deficiency of rainfall over the Mekong Basin since the beginning of this year. In the upper reaches of the lower Mekong Basin, Chiang Rai’s Chiang Saen district had the lowest rainfall in June compared to other areas downstream. This year’s June average rainfall was only 67 per cent of the total amount of rainfall in June 2006 to 2018.
The average lower-than-normal rain volume in lower Mekong Basin from June to July could also contribute to a deficiency in groundwater in the region. This means there will be insufficient groundwater contributing to the mainstream of Mekong.
The amount of water flowing from the upper part of the basin in China, where the Mekong is referred to as Lancang, could also be the reason for the low flow, the MRC said.
The MRC is an international river regulatory body that oversees the lower part of the Mekong Basin, which covers Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. China, which controls the crucial part of the river, is not a member of the MRC.
The MRC renewed an agreement with China last week for hydrological data sharing, which will contribute to river monitoring and flood forecasting in Mekong countries.