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Mekong water woes – a new front in US-China rivalry

The downstream countries through which the River Mekong runs have been facing hardships on account of the reduced flow of water in the last two years. Mekong River Commission (MRC), which groups Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam has urged China to share water management data with MRC experts.

This issue has become a new front in US-China rivalry with China overtaking US in both spending and influence over downstream countries.  The rivalry broke into war of words after a Washington-funded study built a prediction model based on satellite imaging and MRC data that it said showed “missing” waters downstream started in 2010 and concluded that China’s dams held back waters during last years drought.

China denied these findings and backed by a study commissioned by it claimed credit for “helping to alleviate drought” by building dams on the river. “Countries outside the region should refrain from stirring up trouble out of nothing,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.

“This is becoming a geopolitical issue, much like the South China Sea, between the United States and China,” according to experts. Reluctant to take sides, none of the MRC countries has commented publicly on the two studies.

Two years of record drought on the 4,350 km Mekong stretch has brought hardships to over 60 million people impacting the communities involved in farming and fisheries in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

A report by inter-governmental MRC attributes the low water level to reduced rainfall and the operation of 13 Mekong hydropower dams – 11 in China and 2 in Laos as well as dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos.





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