The unseen hand – Mekong River upstream dams

Mar 24, 2011. One year after one of the driest years in half a century, tens of millions of residents along the Mekong River are still trying to determine the cause of poor fish yields and an unprecedented scarcity of the water they use in agriculture and irrigation.
They should have had an answer, months ago.

Last June, a public interest group called Save The Mekong Coalition asked the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which serves as an international advisory body set up in 1995 by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to release complete data on the poor river conditions.

In March 2010, the MRC released a report attributing low flow on the river to poor rainfall, alone.

Critics in the region and abroad argued that the record lows were exacerbated by upstream Chinese dams.

Last summer, the MRC met with Chinese officials and the organization pledged to release an amended report that would consider the shared dam data in August 2010.

Seven months later, the MRC has still not delivered its promise.

Critics have lambasted China for being reluctant to fully disclose complete water datasets and information on the operation and construction of its Mekong River dams.

“China long withheld information on its plans for the massive Lancang and individual dam projects,” said Richard Cronin, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington D.C. “Because these dams collectively are designed to produce very large amounts of hydroelectric power, they are regarded as highly strategic from an economic and energy security point of view and critical sources of energy to maintain politically important high growth levels.”

According to Cronin, China insists that because the upper half of the Mekong River flows through Chinese territory, the information regarding dam operation is private.

“China typically regards information about dams and their operation as state secrets,” he said. “The issue is a complete lack of transparency.”

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