MRC: Premature to Blame Chinese Dams for Mekong Drought

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Chinese Dams Not to Blame for Mekong Drought says MRC (Photo: Jason Rolan)
A bend in the river at Pakbeng (Photo: Jason Rolan)

The Mekong River Commission has said that a new study blaming the drought which struck Mekong countries last year on Chinese dams is ‘premature,’ and that more evidence is necessary.

In its commentary note on the Eyes on Earth study, which blames Chinese dams withholding water for the drought on the Mekong River, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) said that more scientific evidence was necessary.

The study, which concluded that the 2019 drought was in large part caused by water storage in the Upper Mekong dams, was funded by the US State Department.

“Our preliminary analysis, using rainfall data from 2008 to 2019 and observed water flows, showed that the 2019 drought was due largely to very low rainfall during the wet season with a delayed arrival and earlier departure of monsoon rains, and an El Nino event that created an abnormally higher temperature and higher evapotranspiration,” the commentary note reads.

“In 2019, the monsoon rains began almost two weeks late and stopped about three weeks earlier than usual,” it added. “The basin lost about five weeks of rain and only received about 75% of rainfall as compared to previous years.”

 

A table by MRC showing monthly change of distributed rainfall over the Lower Mekong Basin from January through December between 2008 and 2019.
A table by MRC showing monthly change of distributed rainfall over the Lower Mekong Basin from January through December between 2008 and 2019.

 

The note added that the MRC has maintained a continual record of water flows in the Mekong mainstream, and compared this to longer-term records, documented in its Procedures for the Maintenance of Flows on the Mainstream, known as the PMFM.

Citing the PMFM, the note said that flows from China were higher than normal for the 2019 and 2020 dry seasons. It added that in March this year, while the mainstream flows at Vientiane were at record low flows, these record low flows did not persist further downstream.

Drought-stricken area along the Mekong River (Photo: MRC)
Drought-stricken area along the Mekong River (Photo: MRC)

According to the same note, from January 2020, flows at Kratie in Cambodia were also higher than typical for the dry season. It further noted that the drought reported in the Mekong Delta was a meteorological (a situation when dry weather patterns dominate a certain area for a period of time), rather than a hydrological (a situation when low water supply becomes evident, usually after many months of a meteorological drought) phenomenon.

The MRC calls for improved sharing of data and information from China, which would enhance the ability of the MRC and its member countries to manage shared water resources for mutual benefit and to address misunderstandings.

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