Mekong provinces desperate for river to rise

By Vuong Duc Anh   March 18, 2016 | 12:12 am PT
Following a request from Vietnam, China has agreed to double the volume of water released from dams situated in Yunnan province into the Mekong River until April 10, but the water is likely to take at least two weeks to reach Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, according to the Vietnam Mekong Commission.

Farmers in Kien Giang province are suffering from extended saline intrusion.

On March 15, China announced it would release twice as much water than in previous years to help countries located downstream deal with the drought.

Tran Duc Cuong, deputy director of the Vietnam Mekong Commission, said the move will help with drought relief efforts, but will not be enough to solve saltwater intrusion as this depends on the tides.

China is not a member of the Mekong River Commission, so Cuong said one of the two observation posts near Jinghong will monitor the water release.

On March 14, Hanoi sent a formal request to Beijing asking for China's Jinghong hydropower station to release more water into the Mekong River to help relieve the delta's crippling drought.

While most people and local authorities around the Mekong Delta have welcomed the news, domestic experts say that only three to four percent of the water will reach Vietnam.

Dr. Tran Anh Tuan , deputy director of the Institute for Research and Climate Change, said that Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are experiencing severe droughts. When the water flows down from China through these countries, they will take advantage of it and Vietnam will be left with very little, Tuan said.

On March 17, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeperson Le Hai Binh quoted a Singapore media report as saying that Thailand have been taking a large amount of water from the Mekong River to build reservoirs for agriculture.

Vietnam has also expressed concern over a Thai project on the Huay Luang tributary off the Mekong River, and has asked Thai authorities for more information. 

The spokesman reiterated Vietnam's stance on the use of the Mekong River, saying countries have a responsibility to cooperate in the use of water resources and to ensure hydropower projects do not impact the environment downstream.

El Nino has caused the total rainfall average in areas of the delta to fall by 20-30 percent. Water levels in sections of the river that flow through Vietnam have fallen by 50 percent, leading to extended saline intrusion in many parts of the Mekong Delta – the country’s main agricultural area.

Life in provinces such as Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh and Soc Trang has been seriously affected by saltwater intrusion. Nearly 160,000 hectares of rice were lost last year, while 155,000 households suffered from water shortages and many schools, clinics, hotels and factories ran dry.

Authorities have expressed confidence that China’s agreement to release water will help alleviate the prolonged crisis.

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