As officials warned this week that the unusually low water levels in the Mekong River would result in a large drop in the Tonle Sap lake fish catch this year, environmental campaigners yesterday accused China and the Mekong River Commission of withholding information on the impact of China’s upstream dams.
Pich Dun, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Committee, warned Wednesday the reduced catch would severely impact fishing communities around the Tonle Sap.
Like the MRC, Mr Dun said scant rainfall in the region had led to low water levels this year, but he acknowledged that the government lacked exact data on dam operations in China.
China is constructing a cascade of eight dams on the Upper Mekong, while MRC members Laos and Cambodia are considering building another 11 hydropower dams on the Lower Mekong.
Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for International Rivers, said yesterday it was unclear to what extent Chinese dams were influencing water levels, as China had not shared information on its dam operations, while the MRC had not kept its promise to release a report on the reasons behind the Mekong region drought.
“Until the MRC follows through with its commitments…[and] until China publicly releases complete data on its dams’ operations and reservoir water levels, questions will continue to remain on whether China’s dams have compounded the severity of this year’s below-average water levels,” Ms Trandem wrote in an e-mail.
“China should take immediate steps to improve its transparency and accountability,” she said.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Qian Hai, however, said the influence of Chinese dams on the Mekong river water levels was limited. He claimed that China, while not a member of the MRC, was in close communication with countries downstream on the Mekong.
“Water from the Mekong in China is only 10 percent of the [Lower] Mekong River,” Mr Hai said. “China is a partner with the MRC; we have a very good dialogue,” he said. “When China develops the Mekong…we will take into consideration the other countries’ interests.”
Meanwhile local officials around the Tonle Sap said they continued to be concerned about how the expected drop in fish catch would affect communities.
Kwan Thiya, Koh Chivaing commune councilor in Battambang province’s Ek Phnom district, said “If there is a decline in fish catch, fishermen livelihoods will be affected. They have only one job. It will be hard for them to find another job.”