Drought, Dams and Border Tension

As drought grips the Lancang-Mekong basin in Asia, tensions are growing over China’s dam, according to Richard Stone, writing in Friday’s Science (sub req):

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

The drought’s effects have spilled across China’s borders, stoking tensions with neighbors and prompting scientific debate. Rice yields in Thailand are expected to take a big hit, and the Mekong River—the name for the Lancang south of China—is in many stretches less than a meter deep, its lowest level in decades, making it impassable to tour boats and cargo ships. Researchers worry about how the low water level may affect fisheries and critically endangered species such as the Mekong giant catfish, which in the coming weeks would normally spawn in the upper Mekong.

Environmental groups in Thailand and elsewhere lay at least part of the blame on China’s doorstep. They claim that China’s management of a series of dams on the Lancang has aggravated the unfolding crisis. The Thai media has helped stir up emotions; one editorial in the Bangkok Post last month was headlined “China’s dams killing Mekong.”

This is not the only such case. Stone notes that China shares 110 rivers with 19 neighboring countries.