Mekong River flooding expected next week

By Minh Nga   September 6, 2019 | 11:24 pm PT
Mekong River flooding expected next week
A family in Kien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta stands on their fishing farm that lacks water in July 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
The much anticipated annual flooding season in the Mekong Delta is set to arrive in the next few days, much later than usual.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) reports that the floods have reached Thailand and Laos now, and should reach Cambodia in the next few days en route to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

The MRC said in a statement Thursday that "heavy rainfall, brought by the tropical cyclone Podul during August 31 to September 3, over the middle part of the lower Mekong basin from Mukdahan Province of Thailand to Pakse City of Laos has caused a sudden water increase in the Mekong River."

"Most rivers and other water bodies in the areas are now flooded," said Sothea Khem, River Flood Forecasting Specialist with the MRC Secretariat.

In Vietnam, two monitoring stations, Tan Chau and Chau Doc in An Giang Province in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, will see some increase in water levels of between 0.2 meters and 0.4 meters over the next four days.

This will be about one meter below the first danger level.

"During this flooding season, we will monitor the Mekong River’s water levels closely on a daily basis and share this information with our member countries for dissemination to local communities," Sothea said.

The flooding level, defined by MRC as a situation where the water level reaches a full riverbank and creates an overland flow on the low-lying area, has been abnormally low in the Mekong Delta this year.

The Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

For months this year, residents of the Mekong Delta region have had to struggle with the absence of flood waters.

The annual flooding season usually hits the region in late July or early August and stays until November to bless the region with extraordinary fertility as it typically deposits silt from upstream areas.

When annual flooding does not happen or when it’s late, cropping and fishing activities in the Mekong Delta are disrupted.

For several years now, the annual flooding has been late or the flooding has not been enough, mostly due to the building of a series of upstream dams by other riparian nations.

This year, the El Niño effect has made things worse.

The MRC said earlier that the water level in the Mekong River at the beginning of this flooding season (June-July) was the lowest in several years. The level in Chiang Rai Province in Thailand was 2.1 meters as against the average of 3.02m over the last 57 years.

Vientiane in Laos recorded a level of 5.54 m, 0.7 m less than average. In Cambodia’s Kratie Province it was only slightly above the lowest level in its history.

Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent environmental expert, told VnExpress in August that "according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Mekong basin region is experiencing a weak El Nino, and the possibility of rain in one to two months is low."

The El Nino typically occurs every few years when sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above normal levels.

Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of Can Tho University’s Research Institute of Climate Change voiced similar views and blamed the low water level in the Mekong this year on human impacts.

Because of the drought this year, upstream countries have sought to store water in their dams, and the Xayaburi Dam in Laos has just been built, he said.

The country closed the dam to test it, and this blocked the flow of the Mekong River, preventing water from coming downstream to Cambodia and Vietnam, he added.

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