New study shows China caused drought in the Mekong, local experts must have control of their resources

New research shows that in 2019, Chinese dams on the Mekong River trapped nearly all of the river’s flow, causing the record-breaking drought that still plagues the region. The new findings confirm what natural resource advocates have said for years: that local experts and communities must have control over their water.

“No fish. Nothing. We can only catch enough to eat ourselves. We fish through the night and all we catch is one or two skewers for cooking,” a Lao fisherman told Radio Free Asia earlier this year. He spoke to journalists on his boat on the Mekong River during the record-breaking drought that has rocked the region for months.

Local communities on the Mekong have objected to the negative impacts of hydropower dams for years and many voiced concerns that dams played a role in the recent drought. Last week, a new study confirmed their suspicions, showing that the 11 Chinese dams on the upper portion of the Mekong trapped almost all of the river’s flow in 2019 and prevented it from reaching communities and ecosystems downstream in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

The drought, which will continue until the region’s monsoons begin next month, has threatened the food supplies and livelihoods of the 70 million people who rely on the river. “The lay people who depend on the resources of the Mekong River for their livelihoods and income are automatically excluded,” said Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer at Thailand’s Mahasarakham University.

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