Drought in the Mekong Region Prompts Calls for Greater Regional Co-operation

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) was established in 1995 to strengthen joint efforts and partnerships for the sustainable management and development of water resources in mainland South-East Asia. The MRC includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, but not China. Beijing established the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism, to give it a greater say in regional development issues.

The MRC has long been criticised for being weak, especially now as the Mekong River is suffering a drought that has seen water levels drop to the lowest level in 100 years. Though this drought has been blamed on a lack of rainfall, its severity is ‘exacerbated by the impact of upstream dams’. China operates 11 dams on the Mekong, which store and control up to 50 per cent of its water. With drought and disruptions to water flow expected to become more common, there are fears that the long-term effects could cause Vietnam to “lose the delta” at some point this century. The country could potentially lose a major part of its rice, fruit and vegetable production, which accounts for nearly 25 per cent of its GDP.

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Lara Bradbury, Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme