Government and Policy

China denies dams worsen drought in Mekong basin

Updated: 2010-03-31 00:49
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KUNMING - Water resources authorities in southwest China Tuesday denied reports that China's dams on the Lancang River have exacerbated the drought in the Mekong River basin.

Some conservationists in the lower-reach countries in Southeast Asia had accused China of failing to release enough water in the dams, worsening drought with low river water levels downstream.

The Lancang River flows through Yunnan province into southeast Asia where it is called the Mekong River. It is 4,880 km long and the whole basin covers an area of 811,000 square km.

Chen Hui, deputy chief engineer of the Lancang River Maritime Bureau, said the falling levels in the Mekong River in Southeast Asia were mainly the result of sharp declines in rainfall in the river's upper reaches.

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Regions in Yunnan had received 20 percent to 98 percent less rain than normal from September to March, which was why no major floods occurred in the Lancang River in 2009, said Chen.

Zhang Jun, an official at Yunnan Huaneng Lancang River Hydropower Co, developer of the power stations on the river, said the river section in China accounted for 23.5 percent of its total area and the water flow accounted for a much smaller 13.5 percent.

Some dams even helped to manage water flow by storing water in the rainy season and releasing water in the dry season, Zhang said.

He said China did not divert river water and the four dams would not affect the total amount of water flow in the river as most hydropower stations had no reservoirs.

The amount of water flowing into and out of the hydropower stations was basically the same, Zhang said.

Data showed the water levels were lower than at the end of the last flood season, showing China had released water to ease drought, Zhang said.

The water level in the Xiaowan hydropower station, the only one with a reservoir, had fallen by 7.12 meters from the pre-dry-season level with the release of 560 million cubic meters of water to the lower reaches, he said.

This could only help adjust river water flows in border areas because the Chinese section accounted for only a small amount of water flow on the whole Mekong River, Zhang stated.

Shipping on the Lancang River had been halted because of the severe drought, said Chen Mingda, head of the maritime bureau in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, through which the Lancang River flows.

The river tributaries in the upper reaches had also suffered from the drought, Chen said.

The worst drought in a century in southwest China has affected 61.3 million people and 5 million hectares of crops in Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Chongqing, and Guangxi, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said last week.

The dry weather has also left 18 million people and 11.7 million head of livestock thirsty for water and caused direct economic losses of 23.7 billion yuan ($3.5 billion).

Dry weather has affected more than 80 percent of all cultivation areas in Yunnan, where flowers, rapeseed, sugar cane, tobacco and tea are grown.

Its direct agricultural economic losses are estimated at 17 billion yuan. In addition, 8.2 million people in Yunnan are short of food.

Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in Southeast Asia have also been hit by drought, with sharp falls in Mekong river water levels affecting agricultural and fishing industries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang Tuesday said China had close contacts and cooperation with Mekong River countries on water resources utilization and provided them with hydrological data from the upper reaches regularly.

Qin said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao would participate in the first Mekong River Commission Summit in Thailand early next month.

"The countries along the Mekong River are China's good neighbors, and we attach importance to developing relations with them," he said.