Climate change to blame for Mekong drought

By Cheng Guangjin and Ma Liyao (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-03 14:47
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Beijing - A senior Chinese official refuted accusations that upstream hydropower dams caused the current drought in Lower Mekong basin nations at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) International Conference in Thailand on Friday.

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"The extremely dry weather in the lower Mekong river basin is the root cause of the reduced run-off water and declining water levels in the Mekong," said Chen Mingzhong, the deputy director-general of the Department of International Cooperation, Science and Technology with China's Ministry of Water Resources.

As a dialogue partner of the Mekong River Commission, China sent a delegation led by Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao to the two-day conference held at Thailand's seaside resort town of Hua Hin.

"China attaches great importance to developing good-neighbor, friendly and cooperative relations with these countries in its commitment to dialogue, communications and cooperation," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang.

Activists in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, comprising the Mekong River Commission, have sought to blame upstream Chinese dams for low-water levels on the critical waterway.

The 4,350 km Mekong River, known as the Lancang River in China, runs through China's Tibetan Plateau, Yunnan province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Water flowing from China only contributes 20 percent of the Mekong's water volume that reaches the river basin nations, while the remaining 80 percent is fed from water sources in Laos.

"The hydropower stations built on the Lancang River will not increase the chances of floods and drought disasters downstream, instead, it will considerably enhance the capacity of flood controls, drought relief, irrigation and the overall water supply for downstream countries," said Chen.

International water and environmental experts have also said climate change is to blame for the drought, which has also badly affected Southwestern China.

"The wet season started late and ended early last year. This is why rivers such as the Mekong are experiencing low water levels," Ian Campbell, senior environmentalist with the Mekong River Commission, was quoted as saying by the Asia Times Online.

"If the frequency of this pattern is increasing, then there is a case to be made that it is the result of climate change," Robert Mather, head of the Thai arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said.

"The drought is a natural phenomenon in the ecosystem process and, with the climate change in recent years, and an increase in extreme weather," said Ma Chaode, Director of Freshwater Program, WWF China. "It's unfair to say this is China's responsibility."

Pang Zhongying, a senior expert on world politics at Beijing-based Renmin University of China, noted similar problems plague international rivers all over the world.

"It does no good for countries involved to blame each other, or to try to politicize the problem. The only solution will be to face the fact, admit it, and calmly weigh the pros and cons," he said.

China Daily