Damn those dams

The mighty Mekong river is just a memory

Ever since the completion of a few dams across the Mekong river in China, the once mighty river, which flows through all the riparian countries except China, has diminished to a trickle every dry season. The situation this year is worse than the previous years and the worst is yet to come with more dams being built.

If they were alive today, our forefathers would be in shock. The mighty Mekong – the traditional lifeline of Chinese, Burmese, Thais, Lao, Cambodians and Vietnamese – has dried up so badly this year that it no longer qualifies to be called a river.

Boat travel from Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district to the old Lao capital of Luang Prabang, a popular tourist route has been halted because the water too shallow for boats with the capacity to accommodate more than four people. Cargo boats from China have been stranded in Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai.

Chirasak Inthayos, coordinator of the Network for the Conservation of Mekong River Natural Resources and Cultures, said that the river’s condition is the worst for more than a decade. He could only imagine how much worse it will be by April, when the dry season normally peaks. This drying up of the Mekong River is attributable to the closure of four Chinese dams in the upper reaches of the river reportedly to conserve water for electricity generation. The southern Chinese province of Yunnan, which borders Bumr and Laos, is reported to be experiencing the worst drought in more than 60 years.

It is obvious that the Chinese government could not care less about the hardships it causes people and countries along the Mekong down river from the dams. Beijing is interested only it its own people and its ever expanding industrial, business and farming sectors.

Apparently, we, I mean all the Mekong riparian countries except China, have been cowed by Big Brother China and none of us protested when the first dam was built on the Mekong river, despite the fact that the dam’s construction was in breach of international practice and treaties. Belated it may be, but we must all break our silence and loudly proclaim our objection to Bejing’s unfair usage of the water from the Mekong river.

More than a dozen dams are planned on the Mekong river. Just imagine what it will be like.

Will there even be any water released downstream for countries like Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, especially during the dry season? What will happen to Cambodia’s Tonle Sap, the lifeline of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and the source of the famous pla krob dried fish? Also, will Vietnam’s Mekong Delta retain its status as the country’s rice bowl?

The livelihood of the people living along this once mighty river may never be the same as it was only a generation ago when the river still ran free, unharnessed by any dam, and its life giving water flowed downstream.

The destruction of this river and of the lives of the people who depend on it should not be allowed to happen. But it will if we all remain silient and just bear the hurt in quiet bitterness.

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