The QANAT: April 5 to 11

“Statistics show that the recent drought that hit the whole river basin is attributable to the extreme dry weather, and the water level decline of the Mekong River has nothing to do with the hydropower development,” China dismisses Mekong dam criticism at regional meeting, Bangkok Post, April 5
“…the cooperation has already been good, while we expect further development and cooperation with four member countries and dialogue partners.” 1st Mekong River Commission Summit held in Thailand, China Daily, April 5
“Chinese officials … said last week that China’s dams are not responsible for the Mekong River’s falling water levels downstream, pointing instead to a region-wide drought …[and].. the MRC’s own analysis suggests that drought is the main culprit.”   Hun Sen attends summit, Phnom Penh Post,
April 5
“…The crisis has grounded cargo and tour boats on the so-called “mighty Mekong” and alarmed communities along what is the world’s largest inland fishery.”  Dam debate looms large over Mekong summit, AFP, April 3
“Authorities say the reservoirs impact fish habitats, jeopardising a resource that represents the Kingdom’s main source of protein.” Hun Sen orders destruction of reservoirs near Tonle Sap lake, The Phnom Penh Post, April 7
“Activists have recently claimed water shortages in northern Thailand and Lao PDR, are caused by Chinese dams on the mainstream of the Mekong. The MRC has said in earlier statements that there is no evidence to back up this claim, reiterating that current water shortages are due to the regional drought.” [PRESS RELEASE DOWNLOAD], MRC Summit, April 5

 

“The country may face a shortage of almost 1 billion kilowatt-hours as demand is expected to rise as much as 18 percent for the year, the government said.” Vietnam Face Power Shortage as Drought Hurts Hydroelectricity, Business Week, April 6
“Greenpeace China has built solar-powered water pumping stations for free in areas with power shortage to provide irrigation water for local peasants.” Solar power helps water supply, China Daily, April 7

 

“China condemns great power bullying of smaller countries, but a close look at China’s behavior in the Greater Mekong Sub-region indicates that it is Beijing (that is) acting like a hegemon,” Dams portend grim future for Mekong Delta: experts, Thanh Nien News, April 9
“Although some have been quick to blame this year’s drought on global warming, imperial records indicate that normally lush Shangri-La has, in fact, suffered severe droughts periodically throughout history (76 out of the 691 years from 1300 to 1991, to be precise).  Though rare or perhaps because they are so rare these periods can wreak havoc on the region’s fragile economy.” Here’s What You Need To Know About The Devastating Drought In China’s Shangri-La Region, Business Insider, April 10

 

“Working on a joint project with IBM, Saudi Arabia’s national research group King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology(KACST) has announced that it will open the world’s largest solar-powered desalination plant by 2012 in the city of Al-Khafji. The pilot plant will not just supply 30,000 cubic meters of clean water per day to 100,000 people, but will also reduce operating costs in the long run by harvesting energy from sunshine.” Saudi Arabia’s Big Bet on the Sun, CBS News Tech, April 9
“Despite the fall in rice yields, Tengchong aimed to raise annual production by adopting water-saving measures and growing less water-demanding crops… the so-called “dry soil bed breeding” required two thirds less water compared to “wet soil bed breeding”, where seedlings grow in water-soaked fields, Li Hongshun said..” New planting methods maintain farm output in drought-hit Yunnan, China Daily, April 10
Advertisements

Drought in the Mekong River Basin

The last week has seen an eruption of chatter and concern over the low flows in the Mekong River, and the impacts on downstream Riparian nations, specifically Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

First and foremost, the current drought conditions are not isolated to the Mekong Basin. The Southwestern Chinese provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan have experienced unprecedented drought (as I have been following on this blog). The drought has led to widespread crop-failure, and subsequent famine risk.   I find the amount of blame being placed on China surprising and perhaps inappropriate.  Admittedly, China’s dams are likely holding some of the water back that would normally flow down the Mekong as some of the articles point out below.  The Chinese officials in these (and other) articles continue to reference their use of water in terms of the “average flow” of the Mekong, but given that current conditions are not “average” the abstraction from the river should be compared to actual, current Mekong flow.

It is very promising to hear and read that the MRC is successfully convening a summit of all six riparians, something which has not happened for over a decade.  Certainly, the downstream riparians will need China to be a part of a coordinated Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan.  In a water scarce future, with increasing demands for agriculture, fisheries, electricity and transport, the downstream riparians comprising the current MRC members  .  This basin may serve as interesting basin in which downstream riparians will seek other key points of leverage with which to influence China’s hydrologic policy, possibly involving other regional or global actors to help provide pressure for China to cooperate.



A particular glitch in the current web-coverage of the Mekong situation is the number of Chinese dams on the Lancang, or upper Mekong River. Above, you can see a graphic originally provided by International Rivers. I have edited the colors used to indicate the dams (changing the three colors used to denote different categories of construction status from dark blue, black and white, to yellow, red and green). I also edited the inset map to clarify the location of this part of the Mekong.

Hopefully, this map will help to provide some clarity as Chinese hydroelectric projects move forward.

Here is a collection of articles from the region and beyond examining the current situation in the Mekong River basin:
“… the filling of the Xiaowan dam’s reservoir happens to coincide with the onset of the current drought and the subsequent drop in downstream flows.”  For whom the mighty Mekong flows, Bangkok Post, March 31

“…poverty in the GMS (Greater Mekong Subregion) remains high, with average GDP per capita of less than $2 per day.” Mekong countries working hard by slowly to lift regionBangkok Post, March 31

“…the growing crisis has spurred a diplomatic discussion and the first summit meeting of the six riparians in the 15-year history of the Mekong Commission.” The coming crisis over the Mekong — unconstrained development, natural droughts, and climate change, SF Gate, April 3

“Song said the runoff volume of Lancang River accounts for only 13.5 percent of that of the Mekong River.  The runoff of Mekong River mainly comes from the middle-and-lower Mekong basin, amounting to 86.5 percent.” China to boost co-op with downstream Mekong countries, China Daily, April 4

Chinese officials dismissed concerns that their waterwords had affected downstream countries… “At present, we only use a tiny part of the average flow of the Lancang…” China Dam Plans raise Mekong fears, Financial Times, March 31
NOTE:  I would like to point out that the Financial Times article seems somewhat misleading, because it gives the impression that the drought hit areas of SW China, including Yunnan and Guizhou, are hydrologically linked to the Mekong River basin.  Although these regions are experiencing the same climatological drought conditions, they are not hydrologically linked since they are within separate watersheds.

The QANAT: March 29 – April 4

[For extensive coverage of the drought in Guizhou and Yunnan go to the China Daily’s SW Drought HQ]

“In the past several decades, the State has been giving priority to water projects on major rivers and in major grain producing areas, but has neglected building water facilities in mountain and hill areas that do not grow grain.” State should get their feet wet, China Daily, March 29

Villagers work to construct a water tank in the drought-plagued Hechi city of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region…” Villagers work around the clock for water, China Daily, March 29

“It was the first rain I have seen since last October, but it only lasted for about three hours from 3 am to 6 am this morning…” Rain falls on drought plagued Yunnan, China Daily, March 29

” In the worst-case scenario, there would be no water supply. A dry spell will also emerge in North China, where spring drought occurs in nine out of every 10 years…[senior drought relief official]”Warning of worst case scenario, China Daily, March 29

“About one-tenth of Mongolia’s livestock, an estimated 4.5 million animals, have perished leaving herders desperate for food and other emergency relief.” Red Cross appeals for Mongolia aid, Al Jazeerah, March 29

“Shares in state-owned Chongqing Water jumped 74 percent in Shanghai on Monday, well ahead of market predictions for a gain of around 25 percent …” Chongqing Goes Kaching in its Shanghai Debut, New York Times, March 29

“”Normal” has little meaning in Sakai today. Kenya is struggling to emerge from a drought that put 4 million on food aid last year and saw at least 10 million facing starvation, the highest levels in two decades…” The Struggle of Farming a Land Where ‘Normal’ Has Lost Its Meaning, New York Times, March 29

“… The drought has lingered in southwest China for months, affecting 61.3 million residents and five million hectares of crops …” Aerial view of drought-hit areas in SW China, People’s Daily, March 31

“The central government allocated drought-relief funds totaling more than 4.1 billion yuan ($600 million) to Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Chongqing and Sichuan province in southwestern China …” Southwest China in Drought Emergency, People’s Daily SW Drought HQ, March 31

“…the green-plant coverage in Gaosha town area has exceeded 3 million square acres, turning the previous 1.2 million-acre desert area into a green one…” “Green wall” helps curb desertification, People’s Daily, March 31

“Nazarbayev for the first time fully endorsed the position of Uzbek leader Islam Karimov’s administration, which maintains that no hydropower facilities should be built in so-called upstream countries until international feasibility studies are completed.” Nazarbayev makes diplomatic trade-off with Karimov, Eurasianet.org, March 18