River systems help sustain lives and livelihoods. But, thanks to excessive damming and drastic overuse of their water resources, some rivers are drying up before reaching the sea. Nowhere is this truer than Asia.
Building large dams has increasingly run into grassroots opposition in established democracies but has gained momentum in autocratic states, which often tout their benefits for combating droughts and water shortages. But as the Mekong River (Southeast Asia’s lifeline) illustrates, giant upstream dams can contribute to depletion and intensify parched conditions in downriver regions.
The spate of dam building in Asian autocracies is exacerbating already fraught water security disputes.