Chinese dams and the Mekong drought

The latest reports from the Lower Mekong Basin are cause for growing concern that another period of drought will succeed that of 2019, affecting Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Expected rainfall from late May through June and July has not arrived, and the level of water flowing in the river is so low that the “normal” reversal of the Tonle Sap tributary at Phnom Penh, resulting in its flowing back up into the Great Lake, has not occurred. In the Great Lake itself, the low levels of water have had a negative impact on fish catches, with fishers reporting some of the lowest catches in years.

The prospect of another crippling drought comes with the publication of evidence that the 2019 drought took place while China was holding back water in some of its dams on the Mekong River. The claim has been highlighted in major contributions from the Stimson Center in Washington, most importantly in new evidence published in April and in a contribution to Foreign Policy by Brian Eyler, Director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia Program (and whose book The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong I reviewed for the Mekong Review).

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