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

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 8-14, 2010


WHAT? A Weekly digest of news and information related to water security

WHY? Because not everyone is on twitter!  Also, this is focused specifically on watersheds where water security issues are “off the radar”, at least in terms of a Western context.  Specifically, I’ll be collecting information from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America.

NAME? Its an ancient Persian water supply system, comprised of a series of vertical shafts that drain into a long horizontal tunnel, connecting an aquifer to a community, field, or livestock pond.  Check the wikipedia page for an excellent overview.

The Qanat:  Weekly digest of international Water Security related news

“We are also currently looking at ways of streamlining in the way we regulate hydropower…schemes typically need up to four licenses from the Environment Agency at the moment, which is quite complex from a developers point of view.” UK considering building 26,000 hydropower turbines to power British homes. The Telegraph

UN Water has produced ten short “messages” for businesses based on the findings of the 3rd World Water Development Report. Each message addresses a particular influential group of decision-makers. World Water Development report UN Water

“China’s arable land totaled 1.83 billion mu (122 million hectares) in 2009, close to the bottom line set at 1.8 billion mu, Vice Minister of Agriculture Wei Chaoan…”
China Vows to protect arable land from urban development China Daily

Pupils line up for their daily drinking water, which is of a low quality, at a primary school in Huoshipeng village, Dongshan town in Xuanwei, Southwest China’s Yunnan province on March 5, 2010. [Photo/Xinhua]” Photos: Water shortages in Yunnan Province, China China Daily

“A Chinese air force plane takes off for a mission to bomb the floating ice that jams a section of the Yellow River, the second longest in China”  Warplane bombs Yellow River ice jam China Daily

“Zhang Min, a villager in Puding County, Guizhou, said he has not seen a drop of water from the water faucet at his home since the end of January.” More on severe drought in Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces, China China Daily

“Loktak Lake is the largest fresh water lake in Northeast India. It has an area of 300sq km… siltation, pollution, agriculture and adverse effect from Loktak Hydropower Project are some of the main problems which had led to an alarming destruction of the lake.” Campaign to save Loktak Lake, India India Waterportal

“Almost 6 million people and 3.6 million head of livestock are facing drinking water shortages in Yunnan.” 7.5 million in SW China face water scarcity China Daily

“China had 1,527 sewage treatment plants by February 2009, treating 68.8 million cubic meters of sewage every day.” Chinese Politician advocates increased recycled water use Xinhua News

“…two clans have been fighting over land and water in recent weeks in Mudug and the latest clash was about 110 km northeast of Dhusamareb, provincial capital of Galgadud.” Somali clans clash over access to water Reuters

“China extended invitations this week for Mekong country representatives to visit its Jinghong dam later this month.” When the Mekong Runs Dry Asia Times Online

“China’s Chongqing Water Group Co said on Sunday it plans to raise as much as 3.49 billion yuan ($511 million) after setting an IPO price range.” Chongqing Water Shanghai IPO to raise funds for 9 waste water treatment projects and 6 water supply projects Reuters