The Mekong’s water hasn’t been this low for a century

25 Juli 2019

Nary a day goes by without yet another record being broken involving an extreme weather event somewhere around a warming planet.

This summer may yet turn into the hottest on record in Europe with an extreme heatwave recently in southern Europe expected to be followed by another record-setting heatwave.

Halfway across the planet records are being set, too. Water in the mighty Mekong River in Southeast Asia has dropped to its lowest levels in the so-called Golden Triangle (an area of land where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet) in a century.

At some parts of the river water levels have shriveled up to such an extent that boat services have had to be halted. The water is so shallow that sandbars are exposed and locals on both the Lao and Thai sides of the river, which separates the two countries, can wade around ankle deep in muddy water. “[T]he once-mighty river has evaporated to rocky puddles,” a local newspaper reports.

Worse: this is happening during what is supposed to be the monsoon season with frequent downpours. Riverine areas should be flooded right now. Instead, the river is drying up. A prolonged drought is partly responsible for the low water levels in the river, but hydroelectric dams in the area may have exacerbated the water shortage, local experts say.

Several riverbank communities, whose only source of water is the river, are struggling with water shortages. Migrating fish are also likely to be affected by the low water levels as they have less leeway to navigate their way around the river. Aquatic ecosystems are being badly affected as parched land is taking the place of river water.

Local fishermen are reporting dwindling fish stocks. “As far as I am aware, the river is at a record low this rainy season,” Xaysana Bounyalath, a Lao villager who makes his living as a fisherman, told a local newspaper.

Experts are warning that climate change may be causing the Mekong to lose much of its water to frequent droughts in coming years. “This could be a new normal for the Mekong River, due to flow regulation by upstream dams and climate change, resulting in prolonged periods of drought,” observes the Stimson Centre, a think tank.

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