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Asean Affairs   1 June  2011

Does China’s drought relate to the Mekong?

By  David Swartzemtruber

AseanAffairs     1 June 2011

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Readers of this column as well as other Asean news sources should be aware of the ongoing issue of damming the Mekong River in Laos at Xayaburi. The dam decision is currently on hold as it has been kicked out of the Mekong River Commission to the ministerial level of the involved countries: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The issue can be broken down to a simple question: “Will damming the Mekong in its northern section impede or destroy the water resources to the south in the three other countries?” Those resources are: the Mekong as it flows downstream through Thailand, the great Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia which provides a nursery for the many species of fish that eventually flow into the Mekong and the Mekong Delta that provides much of Vietnam’s rice crop as well as a site for fish farms.

This week’s news carried extensive coverage of China’s current drought and the role that China’s Three Gorges dam may be playing in the water scarcity scenario.

Ma Jun is the author of “China’s Water Crisis,” which the press compares to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” that launched the environmental movement in the United States. There is now a drought in southern China and Ma is looking at the Three Gorges dam as a causative factor.

“The Yangtze River and the lakes downstream have quite a delicate relationship,” he said. “These great lakes connected with the Yangtze River would take flood and excessive waters from the Yangtze during the rainy season, and will feed water into the Yangtze during the dry season, but now things have changed with the Three Gorges Dam,” he said, arguing that the dam has reduced the amount of water available in the lake areas, he continued.

This situation parallels the possible scenario that could develop in the Greater Mekong Subregion if construction of the Xayaburi dam proceeds. That possibility certainly has rattled the Cambodians, Thais and Vietnamese.

It is important to note that Thailand is to buy most of the electricity from the dam, a Thai company is to build the dam and Thai banks are financing the project. Yet, Thailand sided with Cambodia and Vietnam to delay the dam for further study as the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Laos was criticized by many as not being comprehensive and not up to international standards.

Delaying projects for “further study” is often used as a polite way to delay decision and actions but in view of the issues evolving from the Three Gorges dam and the Yangtze River, it appears the only course of action that is reasonable, especially when one looks at the drought scenario unfolding in China.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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