China’s water relations with Southeast Asian neighbors are under strain after Beijing held up the Mekong River’s flow at one of its large dams upstream, precipitating a sudden drop in volume for downstream countries that share the region’s longest body of water.
“The water levels dropped suddenly since the beginning of January,” fumed Niwat Roikaew, chairperson of Love Chiang Khong Group, a nonprofit environmental campaign in Chiang Rai, a northern Thai province where the Mekong flows past. “We all know this happened because China closed the dam.”
An estimated 60 million people along the lower Mekong depend on the river’s flow for their livelihood. Communities in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were caught off guard by Beijing’s move, worsening their plight in the midst of the annual dry season.