The Mekong is one of Asia’s most important rivers, supporting 60 million people in Southeast Asia. But for the second consecutive year, the lower Mekong basin has hit a record low water flow, affecting irrigation, rice production and fisheries, all vital to the region’s food security. The drought has also damaged habitats for turtles, reptiles and other critically endangered species.
A reduction in rainfall has caused some of the water loss, according to an August report by the Mekong River Commission. But it also points a finger at upstream hydropower dams—mostly in China—that have held back a large amount of water. The Mekong River originates in China’s Tibetan plateau. Critics say those dams will continue to be a source of conflict unless China moves to other ways of producing power and cooperation increases among the countries.
The country could “invest in more climate-resilient approaches to water and agriculture, and to prioritise the cheaper and more flexible forms of low-carbon power generation, such as solar, rather than dam building,” said Sam Geall, executive
director at environmental non-profit China Dialogue and associate faculty member at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex.
Beijing launched a Mekong water cooperation initiative called Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework (LMC) in 2016, with five other countries—Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.