China agreed Monday to share daily reports on the depth of the Mekong river with countries that lie downstream, a decision that could give Cambodian authorities crucial warning of coming floods.
The reports from the Yunjinghong and Man’an stations in Yunnan province will provide vital information to a network of 15 monitoring stations along the Lower Mekong. The stations are maintained by the Mekong River Commission to monitor the river’s seasonal fluctuations.
“It will be more important for Cambodia to get the data from China,” said Y Kihoeurng, secretary of state for Water Resources and Meteorology. “In the past we got data only from Laos, and it is very close to Cambodia.”
He said the new data will give Cambodian authorities more time to broadcast rapid changes in the river’s depth.
The agreement comes as the MRC attempts to gain more cooperation from China on river issues. China and Burma are the only countries along the Mekong that are not members of the MRC consortium.
“This is very significant indeed,” said Joern Kristensen, chief executive of the MRC. “All parties agree that this is a very important step in the direction of arriving at closer cooperation on other issues.”
Countries in the Lower Mekong region have watched with concern as China proceeds with plans to construct a series of hydroelectric dams on the upper reaches of the river.
The dams are meant to control the flooding that creates havoc downstream, but could also have wide-ranging affects on the river’s ecology and numerous fisheries, environmentalists warn.
More than 300 Cambodians died during massive flooding in 2000, and smaller floods last year still washed away bridges and villages. The dams could minimize the damage while not eliminating the fluctuations that preserve important fisheries, said Dr Dong Zheren, director general of China’s Department of International Cooperation, Science and Technology. He was in Phnom Penh Monday to sign the MRC agreement on behalf of the Chinese government. He said his government would review any technical data sent from the MRC concerning the Tonle Sap river and the possible effects that dams upstream could have on fisheries.
The MRC will provide assistance to the Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China to upgrade equipment at the river stations.
The MRC is an intergovernmental body created by Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to manage the lower Mekong Basin.