Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hour yesterday addressed concerns over record-low water levels in the Mekong River, saying that the unusual absence of tropical storms this wet season had caused the low water levels. He added, however, that he expected tropical storms soon to bring heavy rains that could result in flooding.
“Normally at this time of year there would have been ten storms already…. Now there have been only four storms” in the Mekong region, Mr Kean Hour said, adding that the storms had not reached the upper parts of the Mekong Basin.
“This year the [Mekong River] water level is not low, but is a little late. It is almost one month late…this is unusual,” he said at a press conference during a two-day government meeting on the protection of the Tonle Sap held in Phnom Penh.
Important fish feeding and spawning grounds along the river and around the Tonle Sap lake have been affected by low water levels, causing concern among local fishermen and some officials that this year’s fish production might be significantly reduced.
According to the Mekong River Commission website, water levels near Kratie town measured around 15 meters yesterday, which is at about the same as in 1992, the driest year on record. At Phnom Penh Port the river was 4.50 meters deep, compared to about 5.4 meters in 1992.
Mr Kean Hour said his ministry expected that overdue tropical storms would reach the region soon and bring such heavy rains that the Mekong River water could jump from the current low levels to flood levels.
The minister went on to say that despite the record-low levels, the government was actually concerned about future flooding.
“We have seen the water in the Mekong River rise slowly…. [But] through our forecast, [water] will flow heavily in the near future,” he said, without explaining when he expected these floods to occur.
“The heavy flow of water would cause problems…. Therefore Samdech Decho [Hun Sen] appeals to people to be careful,” Mr Kean Hour added.
He did, however, acknowledge that current low water levels could affect fish production this year.
“If the water does not spread, the flooded forest will stay dry… so there would be an impact” on fisheries, he said, before referring further questions about fish production to the Fisheries Administration.
Fisheries Administration director-general Nao Thuok declined to comment yesterday on the low water levels in the Mekong and Tonle Sap.
Oum Ryna, deputy director of the Water Ministry’s meteorology department, declined yesterday to comment on how upcoming rains or tropical storms could effect Mekong water levels, saying only, “We have a lot of rainfall across the country now.”
Minh Bunly, Tonle Sap coordinator for fisheries NGO FACT, said he could not comment on the minister’s forecasts, saying only that fishing communities around the lake have reported never having seen such low water levels. “They are concerned they won’t get fish this year due to low water levels,” he added.